A redesigned “Red Raider” logo is now the centerpiece of the floor at Ocean City High School’s Dixie Howell Gymnasium, home to the school’s successful varsity basketball programs.
The artwork was commissioned by the school district, but it was painted freehand by an artist who says he got his start with entirely uncommissioned works of school art.
Derek Nicholas of Vineland says his big break in life came when at age 14 he got caught painting graffiti on a school wall after illegally honing is craft on many other public spaces in Philadelphia.
“I had to scrub every wall, desk and chair for a month,” Nicholas says. “That incident changed my whole life.”
A few years later, Nicholas got another big break when an older acquaintance noticed his talent and told him how hard it was to recruit young apprentices interested in learning the trade of pin-striping and sign-painting.
Decades later, Nicholas himself is interested in keeping the “lost art” alive in an era of digital printing and templates. One of his most recent accomplishments is the painting of all of the logos throughout the Villanova University campus. And he’s created a program called learn2paintsigns.com to teach children to put their talents to work for good purposes.
At Ocean City High School, officials were impressed by the artist’s ability to work seemingly effortlessly with freehand brushes.
Ocean City’s teams are nicknamed the “Red Raiders,” and different varieties of raptors have flown in and out of the logos over the years — bald eagles, red hawks, ospreys and “birds that aren’t even real birds,” as Board Vice President Tom Oves put it last year.
The initiative started when the district decided it was inappropriate to use the high school crest on material related to the district as a whole. In developing a new seal, the committee learned that the red-tailed hawk had been regularly used as a symbol from the school’s founding in 1881 through at least 1961.
Sometime between 1961 and the present, the bald eagle became part of a popular logo, though others continued to be used, including some featuring a buccaneer.
The new logo and seal feature the red-tailed hawk.
Ocean City’s colors are red and white, but the logo includes black to help make the logo “pop” on white backgrounds.
The logo will be phased in over time when the district would normally purchase new uniforms, and no historical murals or other depictions old logos would be destroyed.
The work was created by Keegan Design of Glassboro, which came up with hundreds of variations. The design can be adapted for different teams, different shapes and different words.