By Adam C. Warner
For millions of us across the nation, school nicknames and mascots come to define who we are as a group, no matter if it’s a Crusader, Patriot, Yellowjacket, Cheesemaker or Flaming Heart.
They represent entire communities with a common public identity and provide a distinction between one group and another.
We embrace that identity, as it becomes part of us for the rest of their lives. We honor that identity, protect it and go to battle for it every day.
And we take pride in our distinctiveness as it galvanizes us.
Often times, our school nicknames can be in the form of symbols, objects, or animals that are commonplace in society. And most of the time, we prefer these to be intimidating and fierce – all while conjuring up images of strength, power and superiority.
When it’s time to go to battle, we want that competitive edge. Just look at some of the most common school nicknames in the country right now and it makes perfect sense.
The Tigers lead the pack as the most commonly used high school nickname at 678, while Eagles, Bulldogs, Panthers, Wildcats and Warriors are not far behind them. Also included at the top of the list are Trojans, Raiders, Pirates, Bears and Cougars.
Talk about intimidating.
Altogether, most of these nicknames bring to mind a sense of viciousness, quickness, agility, strength and a daunting challenge to conquer, and we as communities aspire to live up to our “makeup” when engaging in athletic competition.
We want to resemble the exact characteristics of our school identity.
Meanwhile, our mascots and nicknames can also be a representation of an entire town or community and its history.
We often choose symbols of our past in order to properly honor those who have served before us and those who have provided the foundation for our community and what it is today.
For instance, a selection of various school nicknames which paint the history of its people include Boilermakers, Engineers, Texans, Hillbillies, Papermakers and Huguenots.
However, there are many instances where our school identities are especially unique, when a nickname might be a common symbol for a particular community, but is actually quite peculiar for the rest of society.
Case in point, mascots representing different food varieties.
In the heart of Illinois, one will find the New Berlin Pretzels. One would deduce that a local pretzel factory paved the way for the high school nickname, but actually that’s not the case.
New Berlin came up with its name following a lopsided basketball game in the 1930s, when the players had pretzels for a halftime snack and then began tossing them at each other. The local newspaper picked up on this and appropriately called them, “pretzel-throwers.” And the name has forever stuck.
And one cannot also forget the Frankfort Hot Dogs, Moorehead Spuds, Hoopeston Cornjerkers, Cairo Syrupmakers, Chinook Sugarbeeters, and Aqawam Brownies, either.
Believe it or not, sometimes our school mascots even resemble inanimate objects.
This season, be on the lookout for the Stuyvesant Peglegs, Lutheran Lights, Teutopolis Wooden Shoes and the Poca Dots.
And there are even some schools that have instilled an aggressive and intimidating mascot, just not everyday characters in the average person’s lexicon.
Take for instance the Glenville Tarblooders.
This Ohio-based squad received its name from the men that worked the railroads in the early 20th century. It’s believed that Tarblooders were half-man, half-robots and were a symbol of fearlessness and ethics.
Apparently, these men would drive stakes into the railroad tracks to secure them in the ground, and as they would, hot tar would splatter onto their arms and faces while causing them to bleed as if sweating blood.
Think that’s a tad unique? Try the Grants Pass Cavemen, Roscoe Plowboys, Vintage Crushers, Blooming Prairie Awesome Blossoms, Mt. Clemens Battling Bathers, Hurley Midgets and the Yuma City Criminals.
And, of course, the Mars Area Fighting Planets, Watersmeet Nimrods, Maryville Spoofhounds, Yuba City Honkers, Danville Little Johns, Chattanooga Purple Pounders, Centralia Orphans, Effingham Flaming Hearts, Cary Imps and the Johnson Atomsmashers.
One would assume that the history behind these schools is unparalleled. Clearly they are communities with their own, singular identity.
However, whether one is a Syrupmaker, Awesome Blossom, Battling Bather, Tiger or Hornet, there is a common thread that unites us all.
We are all part of something, and that, we can be proud
Adam C. Warner is the senior editor for SportsPower. You can read more of his work in our "Who’s Got the Power?" blog, including Inside the Ratings and Rankings every Thursday.