When school consolidation began in Iowa more than a half-century ago, some of the best nicknames disappeared right along with the schools in Iowa’s smaller communities.
Bud Legg of the Iowa High School Athletic Association is compiling a list of team nicknames/mascots for every school that ever existed in Iowa. I can’t wait to see that list.
Since a youngster, I’ve enjoyed learning about team nicknames.
Blame that on the late Jim Zabel, who was the voice of Iowa State High School basketball tournaments for years. Before those games were televised, we "watched" state tournament games through Zabel’s eyes.
When Zabel described the great Garnavillo girls’ teams of the 1950s as the "Candy Kids," listeners could almost see the candy-cane-striped uniforms – typical of the mid-1950s and before – that they wore.
Zabel would describe the game action, using team nicknames as often as town names. And, back then, girls’ teams differed from boys’ teams when it came to nicknames. Guthrie Center is the Tigers; the girls’ basketball team was known as the "Tigerettes." While Ballard’s boys’ teams were the Bombers, the girls’ basketball team was called the "Bomberettes." I know what a bomber is, but I can’t imagine describing a "Bomberette."
Nowadays, of course, both teams go by the school name in most instances. Most times, if there’s a distinction, girls’ teams will be called the Lady Tigers or the Lady Bulldogs, and so on. There are a few exceptions to that general rule. For example, Iowa City West’s boys’ teams are known as the Trojans; girls’ teams are known as Women of Troy.
I guess my favorite Iowa High School nickname is one that has disappeared because of consolidation – the Everly Cattlefeeders. I can’t imagine how the school landed on that name, but it’s priceless.
That’s just one of the long-gone team nicknames, joining the likes of the Elkhart Echoes, the Sheldahl Ramblers and a hundred or so others.
Of course, there are still a few nicknames I enjoy. For instance, it’s interesting to consider how Sheldon came up with "Orabs" for a nickname. I also like the Storm Lake Tornadoes, Fort Madison Bloodhounds, Burlington Grayhounds, the Clarion-Goldfield Cowboys (and Cowgirls) and the Estherville-Lincoln Central Midgets.
There have been a few nicknames that caused controversy within a community. There are at least two schools in Iowa today with the nickname "Demons" – Lamoni and Washington. In the 1950s, however, that team nickname caused enough controversy as to draw statewide attention.
Duncombe, which is now a part of the Webster City district, had that nickname. However, a brother and sister, Sherman and Cordelia Coltvet, whose father was minister of a local church, refused to play for a team called "Demons." In fact, their father left to take another pastoral job and Cordelia Coltvet made an all-state team back in the ‘50s.
My fascination with team nicknames, if anything, increased when I landed a job as a sportswriter in Wausau, Wis., after being discharged from the Army in 1968.
Wausau (later Wausau East) was known as the Lumberjacks. One of the teams I covered was Tomahawk, perhaps 40 miles, or so, north of Wausau. I always found it amusing that a town named Tomahawk would have high school teams known as "Hatchets." If Tomahawk Hatchets isn’t a double entendre, I don’t know what is.
Wisconsin had other teams with unique nicknames. There were the Kimberly Papermakers and the Manitowoc Shipbuilders, the Kaukauna Galloping Ghosts, Ashland Oredockers, Clintonville Truckers, Cuba City Cubans, DeForest Norskies, Elk Lake-Glebeulah Resorters, Elk Mound Mounders, Horicon Marshmen, Laona Fighting Kellys, Mellen Granite Diggers and Monroe Cheesemakers. But, my all-time favorite from the Dairy State is the Rhinelander Hodags.
What’s a Hodag?
Iowa and Wisconsin aren’t alone with intriguing names. How about the Centralia (Ill.) Orphans (girls’ teams are the Annies), the Poca High Dots (W.V.), the Blooming Prairie (Minn.) Awesome Blossom, the Frankfort (Ind.) Hot Dogs, the Jordan (Ut.) Beetdiggers, the Williamsport (Pa.) Millionaires, the Mars (Pa.) Fighting Planets, New Braunfels (Tex.) Unicorns, New Berlin (Ill.) Pretzels, the Hooperstown (Ill.) Cornjerkers, the Teutopolis (Ill.) Wooden Shoes, and the Yuma (Ariz.) Criminals?
You’d have to have a tough hide to play for some of those teams, don’t you think?