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Pagan Idol Benched, Offers No Retribution So Far

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An Oriental idol that has reportedly been providing a Utica, Mich., high-school track team with good luck for 14 years apparently ran out of good fortune last week when squad members voted to bench it permanently.

Team members decided to get rid of the 18-inch-tall statue, named Ho-Tai, after several parents in the community complained that pregame activities involving the figure were beginning to resemble a pagan cult.

"The kids dance around it, rub its belly, and chant 'Ho-Tai lives,"' explained Cass Franks, administrative assistant to the superintendent of the Utica Community Schools. "It's a gimmick, like a rabbit's foot or a horseshoe. We think it has about as much religious significance as the Naval Academy's goat or the San Diego chicken."

At least one parent in the community thought otherwise, however. According to Mr. Franks, the parent transferred her son from Utica High to nearby Ford High School last year so he would not have to take part in the pregame rituals. Earlier this month, she threatened to keep her son out of a track meet between the two schools if the idol appeared on the field.

School officials honored her request, and after the contest they sponsored a meeting with parents, clergy, and community leaders to discuss Ho-Tai's future.

Last week, the Utica team put the matter to rest by voting to shelve their good-luck charm. "We used Ho-Tai as a symbol of our desire to excel, but it looks like it's becoming a distraction to the team, our coaches, and other school officials who care about the success of our program," said the team's co-captain, Paul Schroll.

According to Mr. Franks, the Utica team, which has a 6-1 record so far this year, has done quite well without its mascot. It won its last two meets without Ho-Tai on the sidelines.

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