Naming your sports team can take some deep thought, or maybe not.
They can include a historical reference to your community, impose fear into opponents and sometimes just make you scratch your head.
Locally, East Alton-Wood River and Roxana have historically significant names.
The Oilers of EA-WR are in reference to Standard Oil Company, whose industry brought growth and expansion to the city of Wood River. Standard Oil later became Amoco and now is British Petroleum (BP). The company has since left Wood River but leaves its imprint from days past every time the Oilers enter athletic competition.
Roxana’s Shells are out of the same mold. While Wood River had Standard Oil, Roxana had Shell Oil Company, leading to its school’s nickname. Like Standard Oil, Shell Oil Company has since departed from Roxana but leaves its lasting memory in that prep nickname. Phillips 66 now calls the Shell Oil location home in Roxana.
The Redbirds, Eagles and Explorers are a little more common names to be found. Sorry Alton, Civic Memorial and Marquette Catholic high schools.
The Southwestern Piasa Birds are a team with significance toward local history. I’m pretty sure Chicago people aren’t familiar with the story of the Piasa Bird.
Illinois prep sports aren’t short on quirky and unique names. Take the Cobden Appleknockers, the Hoopeston Cornjerkers, the Effingham Flaming Hearts and the Teutopolis Wooden Shoes — some of my personal favorites.
The Appleknockers simply reference knocking apples from a tree and the Cornjerkers represent the way people pulled corn straight from the stalk prior to the use of modern machinery. The Flaming Hearts are an ode to Effingham being in the American heartland and the Wooden Shoes honor the Dutch heritage of Teutopolis.
Some programs differentiate between their boys’ and girls’ squads. Take the Bunker Hill Minutemen and Minutemaids, the Valmeyer Pirates and First Mates, the Centralia Orphans and Orphan Annies, the Cairo Pilots and Co-Pilots and the East St. Louis Flyers and Flyerettes as examples. Alton used to be the Redbirds and Redwings, but has since changed to just the Redbirds.
Flora has different names for its two teams, but you have to question the educational process there. The Wolves are fine for the boys, but the Wolfgals? What’s a Wolfgal? I’m not sure I want to know.
The smarts in Georgetown-Ridge Farm come into question, too. If they were the Bison I wouldn’t question it, but the Buffaloes? Maybe the Deers and the Fishes are out there and I just haven’t found them.
Some schools fall short of imposing fear into the hearts of their foes. I don’t think the Fisher Bunnies have anybody shaking in their boots. New Berlin and Freeport went with the same non-scary mascot, the Pretzels. There are also the Wethersfield Flying Geese, the Rock Island Rocks, the Carbondale Terriers, the Kincaid South Fork Ponies, the Henry-Senachwine Mallards and the Zion Benton Zee-Bees, to name a few.
It would be interesting to see the Alden-Hebron Giants square off with the Freeburg Midgets.
As we’ve become a more politically correct society, some Illinois sports programs had to modernize themselves. Pekin High School realized it in 1980, changing from the derogatory Chinks to the Dragons, but it wasn’t until 2005 that Lemont High School switched from the offensive Injuns to the more common Indians.
Some names are even goofier than others. Famed Italian traveler Marco Polo didn’t play for the Polo Marcos of Polo High School, and what the heck is a Caxy? Lake Forest Academy got cute with that name, which is the Greek word meaning ribbet. It’s in reference to Athens playwright Aristophanes’ hit comedy “The Frogs.” The play was the subject of a popular Greek literature class in the early 1900s at the school.
Annually, myself and a few of my buddies attend the IHSA large-school basketball state tournament and we were intrigued a few years back by the New Trier Trevians. We said, ‘What the heck is a Trevian?’ Now I know, it’s a soldier from Trier, Germany, dating back to the time of the Roman Empire.
I’m sure there are plenty of other crazy nicknames out there I haven’t come across yet. Whether you are from the LaGrange (Lyons Township) Lions, the Argo Argonauts, the Newark Norsemen or the Mattoon Green Wave, the Marissa Meteors or the Carthage Blueboys, take pride in your school’s name and be on the lookout for other unique team monikers.
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