By Mike Lunsford
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.
Most of the letters I get are positive, and Fred’s was no exception; he simply reminded me, politely, that I needed to double-check my facts about the high school nickname for Quincy, a tiny burg in the uppermost northeast corner of Owen County. In my yearly pre-tournament quiz for the Pizza Hut Wabash Valley Classic, I had said that Quincy’s team was the Aces and that the school had consolidated into Owen Valley.
Fred suggested that the Aces hailed from Freedom, another small town just down Indiana 67 to the southwest, and he was right; the Aces did come from Freedom. But after doing a little research I discovered that the nickname also belonged to Quincy. That fact should have made me happy, but along with the confirmation that I was right about the name, I also found out that Quincy eventually consolidated across county lines into Cloverdale High School, not into Owen Valley. So on that point, I was wrong and Fred’s letter taught me something after all.
There’s something fascinating about the pre-consolidated high school era in Indiana and the unique nicknames from those old days. I don’t have anything against the new but rather generic names of the latest generation of schools, but not everything that’s newer is necessarily better.
From Acton to Algiers, Lagro to Losantville, and Saluda to Selvin, it seems as though just about every stop in the road had a school and a nickname of its own. Some of the names weren’t the most politically correct, but they are an enjoyable trip to the past.
My favorite names are either melodious or ominous or a little bit of both. It must have been pretty intimidating to know you had to square off on a Friday night in the dead of winter against the Buck Creek Cobras, the Holton Warhorses, the Kennard Leopardcats, or the Swayzee Speedkings. I don’t know if I’d have enjoyed facing the Tippecanoe Police Dogs, the Waynetown Gladiators, the Banquo Ghosts, or the Redkey Wolves on the road either. Want to play against a bunch of Gorillas? That’s exactly what you’d have had to do had you walked into the gym at Hartford City for a game. You could have expected to have seen Haymakers thrown around had you played in Hayden; at Summitville you’d have tipped off against the Goblins.
Quick, say Pinnell Purple Dragons three times before you move on…
I think there’s a good bit of history we can learn from the old names; many of the folks in the proud little towns in the old days chose nicknames and mascots that either echoed their town’s name or some bit of history associated with it. That was obviously the case for the Bedford Stonecutters, the Edwardsport Powers, the Maukport Pilots, the Klondike Nuggets, the Ladoga Canners (there was a canning factory in town), the Marengo Cavemen, the Monon Railroaders, the Remington Rifles, and the South Bend Wilson Presidents. That was surely true of the Boston Terriers, the Buffalo Bison, the Lincoln Railsplitters, and the Stinesville Quarry Lads too.
Some schools simply used the town’s name as part of its school nickname. The Beaver Dam Beavers, the Clarks Hill Hillers, the Huntingburg Happy Hunters, the Kingsbury Kings, the Lyons Lions, the Midland Middies, and the Mulberry Berries, for instance. The Oil Township Oilers, Otter Creek Otters, Oaktown Oaks, Poseyville Posies, and Rome City Romans did too. It was pretty obvious that the Sir Walters came from Raleigh and the Pine Knots from Pine Village.
It seems to me that color was often considered more important in days gone by too. There was a virtual rainbow on display when the Alquina Blue Arrows or the Arlington Purple Breezes played. Just think of the crayon box of beauty when the Carthage Blue Raiders, the Clear Spring Purple Warriors, the Etna Green Cubs, the Lincolnville Gold Bugs, or the Medaryville Black Horses ran onto the floor. New Market had their Purple Flyers, New Waverly had the Scarlets, and, of course, Terre Haute was home to Purple Eagles, Black Cats, Red Streaks, and Golden Bears.
You would think that some nicknames were so unique that only one school could have had it, but that’s not the case. There was only one Raccoons (Bridgeton) and one Blackshirts (Bowers) There was only one Windmills (Butler) too, and there surely could have only been one Wampus Cats (Cambridge City), while the Kangaroos called only Kirkland home. But there were at least two schools that shared Tornadoes (Gary Emerson and Griffin), while Mecca had its Arabs and Markleville its Arabians. Ridgeville, Riley, and Russiaville were the Cossacks; Plainville, Perry Central, and Wanatah had the Midgets; and Yankeetown and Young America shared the Yanks. I always knew that Pimento and Wallace were both home to the Peppers.
I’m not sure if they ever played on their own floor, but Spartanburg was home to the Tomcats. Now, there’s a team ready for the road if I ever heard of one. Did they look forward to running into the Orioles (Lima), the Bluebirds (Ninevah), or the Wrens (Patoka)?
From Coal City (the Colts) to Deer Creek (the Crickets), from Kirklan (the Travelers) to Milton (the Sharpshooters), Indiana sought progress through consolidation, and left much of its history to be remembered only on nostalgic coffee mugs, license plates, and garage sale yearbooks.
The Hanging Grove Hornets and the Kitchel Cowboys may be gone forever; the Scircleville Ringers and the Spiceland Stingers are history. But what a time they had.
You can reach Mike Lunsford at firstname.lastname@example.org, or through regular mail C/O The Tribune Star, PO Box 149, Terre Haute, IN 47808.