When Edina High School administrators changed the dance team's name from the Hornettes to just plain Hornets -- the school's sports nickname -- they thought it would instill a sense of unity among students who spend autumn Friday nights cheering for their favorite football team.

But the move has stung hundreds of community members who think the school is kicking a 53-year-old tradition to the curb for no good reason.

Tears have been shed and insults hurled over the change, which was publicly unveiled just as students went on spring break last week.

Past Hornettes are rallying behind their sisters, organizing a petition drive and placing banners along Hwy. 100 with pleas to "Save the Hornettes."

And angry parents plan to show up en masse at the school board meeting Monday, demanding to know why the Hornettes are no more -- at least in name.

"It's a pretty radical plan to solve a problem I'm not sure exists," said John Karlson, whose daughter, Kelsey, is a dance team captain this year.

School officials said they made the change to strengthen the school's "brand consistency" and unify the band, dancers and cheerleaders under a common moniker. They said the changes were part of a broader schoolwide effort to align programs wherever possible.

The school's "spirit squad," which encompasses the different booster teams, seemed like a natural target for reorganization because they all operate independently of each other, but share a common goal: to lift school spirit.

"It makes sense all the teams be called Hornets," said Jenni Norlin-Weaver, the district's director of teaching and learning, adding that school officials sought input from parents and students before making the move.

That explanation doesn't fly with parents of the current crop of Hornettes/Hornets, some of whom believe a few high school administrators have an ax to grind with the team.

They point to the fact that school officials investigated an alleged hazing incident last fall involving Hornettes who were attending a sleepover.

School officials confirmed an incident took place, but declined to discuss it.

"That incident did not spur specific changes," Norlin-Weaver said.

Other changes include giving other spirit squad members more chances to perform. Parents of current Hornettes/Hornets say they're interpreting that to mean that the dance team's halftime shows will be scaled back.

"Abolishing the name and reducing the number of performances is a death sentence for this program," said Kimberly Scheerer, whose daughter Brooke is on the dance team.

She said that parents estimate they'll have to spend hundreds of dollars replacing dance team uniforms and other items as a result of the name change. But their frustration, she said, is less about money than it is about changing school tradition.

'It's a sisterhood'

The dance team is among the longest-running such organizations in the Twin Cities. Among its notable alums is former Minnesota First Lady Mary Pawlenty, a onetime co-captain of the group when she was a student at Edina East High School, Class of '79.

The team belongs to a rather large sorority of "ettes" who dance at games on crisp Minnesota Friday nights. They include the Benilde-St. Margaret Knightettes, Orono High Spartanettes, St. Cloud Apollo Astronettes and Minnetonka High Skipperettes.

Many past Hornettes are among the most vocal in opposing the changes.

J.J. Ries, who was a Hornette in the mid-1990s, said dancing with the team "changed her life" and gave her confidence that's sustained her as an adult. She is organizing a petition drive on behalf of the Hornettes and had collected more than 900 signatures in recent days.

"It's a sisterhood," she said. "There are just so many positive traditions. Changing the name is just ridiculous."

Brooke Scheerer agreed, explaining how the difference between Hornettes and Hornets is significant. At least for a Hornette, anyway.

"It's personal to us," Scheerer said. "We're a family. And taking our name away for no real reason at all is just heartbreaking."

Kim McGuire • 612-673-4469