TERRE HAUTE —
Some people wouldn’t know originality if it hit them like a falling tree.
This week — the annual period when the title “expert” is about as difficult to acquire as a fishing license — the Internet is awash in predictions, rankings and assessments of the college basketball teams involved in the NCAA Tournament. One expert, fishing for an angle on his “bests and worsts” of the Big Dance schools, decided the Indiana State “Sycamores” was the worst nickname of the bunch.
The guy wonders, who names their players after a tree?
Nobody, except ISU, and that’s the beauty of it.
Out of the 64 teams that will begin March Madness today, Indiana State possesses the only nickname derived from a living, yet inanimate object.
Only four universities in the field use nicknames related to things without a pulse — the Syracuse Orange (ISU’s opponent Friday night), the St. John’s Red Storm, the Georgetown Hoyas and the Akron Zips. (An argument can be made for Ohio State. Its nickname, “Buckeyes,” comes from the Ohio state tree, but Ohio residents — living, breathing humans — have referred to themselves as “Buckeyes” since 1840.
It was in that year Ohio native and presidential candidate William Henry Harrison distributed campaign souvenirs carved from buckeye wood. Plus, the eyeball-looking fruit of the tree is also commonly known as a “buckeye.” So with top-seeded OSU, we’re either talking people or nuts.)
Syracuse and St. John’s changed their nicknames from “Orangemen” and “Redmen,” respectively, in response to criticisms they were derogatory toward Native Americans. Georgetown apparently isn’t sure where “Hoyas” originated, but it probably emerged in the late 1890s, when students there borrowed the Greek word “hoya” or “hoia” to shout “hoya saxa” (or “what rocks!”) in support of their football team. Enough said about that. Akron, the runner-up to ISU, chose Zips (shortened from Zippers) because the local BF Goodrich plant produced rubber overshoes by that name.
But “Sycamores” stands tall above the other 62 teams, Akron notwithstanding. “Sycamores” connotes sturdiness and growth. The nicknames of other teams — Huskies, Longhorns, Wildcats, Bearcats, Owls, Wolverines, Tigers and Bison — could be subdued with a tranquilizer; with ISU, a chainsaw is required. That’s tough.
According to university archives, the student body conducted a contest in 1921 to select an official nickname for its teams. Up to that point, sports squads from Indiana State Teachers College (the school’s first name) were casually identified as the “Fighting Teachers.” (Given the battles faced by public school educators around the nation, “Fighting Teachers” actually sounds even better.) With sycamore trees common along the banks of the Wabash River, students made it their No. 1 choice, and the nickname stuck.
Heck, in the 1950s and ’60s, Indiana State even dressed its student mascot in a tree outfit at ball games. Later, the walking Sycamore gave way to Chief Ouabachi, which eventually gave way to the current non-tree mascot, Sycamore Sam — a genderless, nondescript, fuzzy blue creature. Unfortunately, mascots and nicknames are often two different things. Sam serves a fun presence at games, but the image of a tree-man (or tree-woman) stalking the sidelines has a surreal, “Wizard of Oz” appeal. Picture a bark-covered, leafy Sycamore mascot hurling fruit at unruly opposing fans.
There are other one-of-a-kind monikers in this year’s tournament — the Cal-Santa Barbara Gauchos, Purdue Boilermakers, Xavier Musketeers, West Virginia Mountaineers, Old Dominion Monarchs and the Ohio State Buckeyes. Sycamores are not only just as distinctive, but also they’re far more low-maintenance. They don’t need chaps, hammers, ammunition, a shave, a raccoon pelt or a throne to sustain themselves. Just some liquids and sunshine — a diet which, in this spring break season, has a very collegiate ring to it.
Besides, the nickname hasn’t stunted ISU’s success in the Big Dance. With five victories in their last (and only) eight NCAA games heading in to Friday night, the unique Sycamores have a pretty decent run going … knock on wood.
Mark Bennett can be reached at (812) 231-4377 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
‘Expert’ misses how alive our Trees are
TERRE HAUTE —
Some people wouldn’t know originality if it hit them like a falling tree.
- Mark Bennett B-Sides
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Reliving the 1980s may sound tempting.
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OK, “Back to the Future”-style nostalgia obviously has its limits.
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Many Americans connect basketball with Indiana.
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Four months, 500 miles and 18 towns.
In the course of compiling the “500 Miles of Wabash” series, which concludes this Sunday, Tribune-Star photographer Jim Avelis and I heard valuable insights from dozens of people who live, work and recreate along Indiana’s state river. One comment seems particularly relevant to Terre Haute, especially as the ongoing 2013 Year of the River celebration stirs ideas. The quotation affirms the potential of a stellar proposal this community ought to consider.
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Baseball has gotten too athletic.
MARK BENNETT: Steve Martin keeps Terre Haute on burner
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Better yet, he hasn’t forgotten us.
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I’ll admit, I worried about Paul McCartney during the blistering intro to “Helter Skelter.”
MARK BENNETT: Forget the cellphone, enjoy the summer
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MARK BENNETT: Time for surf, sand and a good book
I can read a book on the beach. Until I start sweating. Then it feels like exercise, minus the fitness perks. My brain shifts into neutral as the waves roll in, blissfully washing away footprints in the sand and my inclination to think. Better put, I enjoy starting a book on the beach, and finishing it later, elsewhere.
Police: Mom, son conspire to kill witness
The Clay County Sheriff’s Department seems to have prevented what it believes was a mother-and-son conspiracy to commit murder.
Banks of the Wabash Festival is more than just yearly entertainment
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Some phrases can only be uttered by a few people, or none at all.
MARK BENNETT: Glitches show limitations of high-stakes testing concept
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Remember that name.
MARK BENNETT: Sometimes, the mere posing of questions is significant
The era seems quaint now, almost like a fable. When people left their house doors unlocked. When the sight of a police officer in a school meant it was Career Day.
MARK BENNETT: New reality steers Nashville singer to Crossroads for Historical Society concert
People pass through the Crossroads of America for lots of reasons.
Business trips. College campus events. Federal prison sentences. Visits with relatives. Gas pitstops.
Or maybe a career change and a twist of fate.
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MARK BENNETT: Terre Haute barber ‘sharpens up’ customers for 50 years
People streamed through this section of downtown Terre Haute in those days.
“You could hardly walk by here,” John Hochhalter said, pointing toward the sidewalk outside the window.
The bustle has faded since the early 1960s. Hochhalter remains. He’s still barbering in the same shop he and late business partner Kenny Thomas opened a half-century ago this week.
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Lent meets ‘The Bucket List’ in Terre Haute
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MARK BENNETT: Never truer: Knowledge vital to narrowing ‘skills gap’
The pillar at the gates of Faber College in the movie “Animal House” bore a wise motto, despite its tongue-in-cheek intent …
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