Jim Fall: Athletic team names, from A to Z

Jim Fall

From Aardvarks to Zizzers, the world of high school and college athletic team names is a world unto itself.

My hometown team, the Maryville Spoofhounds, rank right up there near the top when it comes to rooting for high school teams with unique names, but Bearcats — well there are dozens of them.

As the Spoofhounds so clearly illustrate, high schools seem to have the knack for the more unique names. We know the origin of the Spoofhound — the name hung on the team after a particularly poor showing when the coach compared them to the ceramic dogs given away as carnival prizes.

The Oregon Episcopal School Aardvarks are obviously an attempt to be atop any list of mascots, although it is the namesake of a medium-sized, burrowing, nocturnal mammal native to Africa. The West Plains Zizzers are a different story. The name is apparently derived from a teacher’s exclamation when first shown a copy of a memory book created by the senior class, so go figure that one for yourself.

Still in the high school ranks, you can cheer for the Speedway, Ind., Sparkplugs, or the Pleasant Hill, Ore., Billies (like mountain goats), but you have to say that whole thing together to get the full impact. Other than Spoofhounds, my favorite would probably be the Peter Stuyvesant, N.Y., High School Peglegs.

The Missouri Tigers trace their origin to the Civil War when plundering guerilla bands from Kansas habitually raided Missouri towns. Fearing such an attack, Columbia people formed a home guard to defend against any possible forays. The local band was called the Missouri Tigers, and their reputation apparently spread because Columbia was never attacked by the marauders. In1890, when the university fielded its first football team, they were named Tigers in honor of that group.

By the way, there are 44 other Tiger teams in the NCAA ranks, and three Bengals.

Jayhawks is a different matter. One source says its is derived from the guerilla bands from Kansas that fought with pro-slavery groups and regularly caused havoc in Missouri (although not recently). Another reference is that the mythical bird is a cross between the noisy blue jay that torments intruders, and the hawk that swoops in to kill them.

The Jayhawks are not the only Kansas team with a weird name, however. There are the Moundbuilders from Southwest College, the Bethel Threshers, the Pitt State Gorillas, the Wichita Shockers and the Washburn Ichabods.

Wheatshockers are somewhat like Cornhuskers from Nebraska, and the origin of both is readily identifiable. But then there are the Colorado Buffaloes, technically another mythical animal because Ralphie V, the America version that romps and stomps around Folsom Field, is really a bison, not a buffalo (they are all in Africa). There are four other Buffaloes and nine Bison in the college ranks.

There are more than a few teams that have abandoned the Indians name in an effort to be politically correct, but there are still Florida State Seminoles and North Dakota Sioux. Chief Illiniwek has been deposed, but the Illini still represent the University of Illinois. And the Indians from Haskell Indian Nations University are still fighting. Former Indians include the Southeast Missouri Red Hawks, the Southeast Oklahoma State Savage Storm (maybe still marginal to those who strive to be absolutely politically correct); the Arkansas State Red Wolves, and one band of Redskins turned into the Crimson Storm. The Stanford Cardinal used to be Indians, too. Still wearing their war paint on Friday nights are the Browning Indians, in Browning, Mont., the tribal headquarters of the Blackfeet Nation. Interestingly, there are 13 Indians among the state’s high schools, 11 Warriors, two Savages and two Chiefs, and one band of Braves.

More popular college names: There are 60 Eagles, plus 15 Golden Eagles; 51 Panthers; 39 Bulldogs; 37 Wildcats; 34 Lions; 31 Warriors; and 21 Saints (including Carroll College, NAIA football champions five of the past six years).

One of  kinds? How about the Hawkeyes from Iowa and the Texas Christian Horned Frogs? There is only one Griffons. One set of Sooners, and one Salukis, from Southern Illinois.

My personal favorite is from Louisiana. That would be the University of Louisiana-Layfayette Ragin’ Cajuns. Putting the traditional shortening of the school name to it and you get — U-La-La.

You gotta love it.

Maryville Daily Forum