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February 27, 2007

Sidelines: Illinois has its share of unique nicknames too

TERRE HAUTE — Over the years, I’ve written at least four columns about unique school nicknames, but Casey resident Jim Blome reminded me in a letter about a year ago that I’ve never done a story about interesting names from Illinois schools. I think it’s time I remedied that error.

Along with his letter, Jim sent a rather long list of names I might want to include in my story, a virtual nickname bonanza that I would normally have had to labor to put together myself through research. He gave credit for the list to long-time Marshall Lions basketball coach Nellie Bennett, so I want to be sure to pass my thanks on to him as well.

Along the way, I also ran into yet another source for my material, Fred Willman’s Why Mascots Have Tales (IHSA, 2005, $20.00). Willman, a retired teacher, told me via e-mail that he got interested in school nicknames because “I like sports and I like good stories.” The Naperville native’s book appears to be filled with both. According to Willman, there are 788 high schools in Illinois; they share 250 nicknames, 144 of which he deemed “unusual.”

For most part, school nicknames from years ago often reflected their communities. In Indiana, as across the country, local businesses (Ladoga Canners), ethnic groups (Mecca Arabs), and tales from history (Vincennes Alices) were often the genesis for the local school’s moniker. Likewise, in Illinois, there is DeKalb (the Barbs were named for the barbed wire manufactured there), Addison Driscoll (the Highlanders), and Lincoln (the Railsplitters). Nicknames were a matter of pride, perhaps even prejudices, but at least they were unique. Illinois, like Indiana, has lost many of those names to consolidation, a few more to political correctness.

When I glanced down Bennett’s list — and I want to make it clear that, to my knowledge, all of these schools still exist — I was first attracted to colorful nicknames. The Alexis Red Storm caught my eye, as did the Aledo Green Dragons, the Carthage Blue Boys, the Galesburg Silver Streaks, the Mattoon Green Wave, the Jacksonville Crimsons, the Knoxville Blue Bullets, the Litchfield Purple Panthers, and the Mt. Carmel Golden Aces. Andy Amey’s personal favorite — the Arcola Purple Riders — made the list too. The absolute coolest name to me was the Illinois Valley Grey Ghosts; there is nothing generic about being a Grey Ghost.

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Sidelines
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  • Sidelines: Illinois has its share of unique nicknames too Over the years, I’ve written at least four columns about unique school nicknames, but Casey resident Jim Blome reminded me in a letter about a year ago that I’ve never done a story about interesting names from Illinois schools. I think it’s time I remedied that error.

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    May 12, 2006 1 Photo

  • TSLunsford Sidelines: It doesn’t take much for me to name names It’s no secret that I enjoy talking about old high school nicknames; I’ve done several columns on the subject before. I usually wait a little while before I write about a topic for a second (or third) time, but when Fred Myers of Riley dropped a letter to me a few weeks ago pointing out a potential mistake I made about a nickname, I just couldn’t resist going into it again. After all, it has been a couple of years.

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