Rallying around the Lions, the Panthers, or the Wildcats at high school sporting events is relatively easy. But does anyone want a bunch of Nimrods to win? The students at Watersmeet Township School in Watersmeet, Michigan, probably do. The Nimrod, the school’s mascot, looks like a fierce and imposing figure, the Paul Bunyan type who could bravely conquer all of his challengers.
Originally, calling someone a nimrod meant he was a successful hunter. But over time, it became an insult toward dim-wits. Nevertheless, these Michiganders are still the Nimrods, cheering on a mascot that clearly stands out from the rest. Here’s a look at a handful of American high school mascots with surprising names, and some with even more surprising stories.
The Alva High School Goldbugs in northwest Oklahoma got their name thanks to a school principal who was an avid reader of Edgar Allan Poe’s work, especially Poe’s 1843 short story The Gold Bug. According to the story is painted on a wall outside the school’s gym, the principal gave pieces of paper shaped like ladybugs and painted gold to students who kept their grades up. By the 1920s, these “goldbugs” had become symbols of overall excellence, in the school’s estimation, and the Goldbug mascot was born.
The New Berlin Pretzels in New Berlin, Illinois, have a hard time tracking down exactly how they got their name. A school yearbook from the early 1950s includes four different stories about how the mascot came to be, Superintendent Jill Larson says. One version suggests that school board members were drinking beer and eating pretzels when they chose the name; another theory is that the board members were sitting around a table with their arms crossed in frustration because they couldn’t pick a name. Yet another rumor is that a basketball player decades ago had an unusual free-throw shot that involved lots of arm-twisting.
Larson says, “There was a time that people wanted to change the mascot, and they asked the kids if it was outdated. Overwhelmingly, the students stood up back in the day for their mascot, showing the pride and dedication they have for their school. And I can guarantee you, you would never get rid of it now. I can guarantee that. Everybody loves being a Pretzel.”
3. Hot Dogs
Yes, there is a hot dog festival in Frankfort, Indiana, each year, so the high school’s mascot is fitting. Like with most mascot names, the explanations behind this one vary. The most popular seems to be that a newspaper columnist decades ago called the players “hot dogs” while the team was winning, according to a 2017 story from The Indianapolis Star. Now that’s a way to get a name.
4. Wampus Cats
Little information is available about the Atoka, Oklahoma, High School Wampus Cats’ story, but the wampus cat itself is a mythical creature with six legs, somewhat like a mountain lion. It was supposed to be fierce and evil, but it can also have humorous connotations, according to appalachianhistory.net. Maybe it motivates this high school to “whomp” the competition.
5. Mighty Bunnies
It’s not too much of a jump to say the Mighty Bunnies at Benson High School in Omaha, Nebraska, are a bit of an oxymoron; you don’t usually associate mightiness with fluffiness. The school reportedly relocated during the 1920s to a field that happened to be filled with rabbits, according to Yahoo! Sports.
The Jordan High School Beetdiggers in Sandy, Utah, got their roots from the area’s agricultural economy. “Back when the school started over 100 years ago, there were beet farms all around here,” says Jordan High School administrative assistant Jayne Raymond. “They would close down the school when they needed to have the kids go home and help farm the beets.” A 2007 article from The Deseret News also sheds light on the mascot’s story.
The Yuma High School Criminals don’t have an arrest record, but they’ve rallied behind this moniker for more than 100 years. This Arizona school inhabited a former prison in its infancy, and a competing athletic team dubbed the Yuma players “criminals,” according to the school website. They must be good at stealing bases.
8. Flaming Hearts
High school sports fans’ hearts are probably on fire in Effingham, Illinois. The school started using Hearts as its mascot as early as the 1930s, according to school athletic director David Woltman. “Some of the town and community leaders decided that Hearts alone wasn’t passionate enough,” says Woltman. “So, they chose the word flaming.” That word stemmed from a quote by former President Harry Truman, who said, “Every great achievement is the story of a flaming heart.” With that, the Flaming Hearts were born.
Try spelling this mascot’s name in reverse (minus the S). In Annapolis, Maryland, the Key School Obezags — anagram of gazebos — assumed this name just to tick off local sportswriters, according to Yahoo! Sports. The school didn’t have a mascot, but amid mounting pressure from the press to get one, it took the name because it has gazebos on its campus. Take that, sretirwstrops!
Depicting a gruff, bearded, hat-wearing man, the Hillbillies at Ozark High School in Arkansas took on the name during the 1936 football season, says Bronson Ruston, a columnist for The Spectator newspaper in Ozark. The school, then using the Bulldogs mascot, likely adopted the Hillbillies name after receiving donated football equipment from the University of the Ozarks in Clarksville, whose mascot at the time was the purple-and-white Mountaineers. “They kind of inherited this purple-and-white equipment that had this hillbilly-looking mascot on it,” Ruston says. “But they didn’t want to be the Mountaineers, since U of O was already using Mountaineers. … That’s how they became the Hillbillies.”
Honorable mention: Maroons
When I was attending Blackwell High School in Blackwell, Oklahoma, I had no idea how we got our name, the Maroons. Nobody else knows, either. Melissa Hudson, director of the Top of Oklahoma Historical Society Museum in Blackwell, says the school first began using the name some time during the early 20th century. “It’s something people have been trying to figure out since 1925,” she says.
For a long time, I thought the term Maroon had something to do with Bugs Bunny’s Looney Toons insult, “What a maroon!” (I later learned it didn’t, but I still told that joke whenever we lost games.) Few people have ever heard of a Maroon, but oddly enough, we aren’t the only Maroons out there. Our arch rivals, the Perry Maroons, were only about 45 minutes south. Our games were the Battle of the Maroons. I guess our options were limited, leaving us marooned to face another team with the same name. What a bunch of Maroons!
Featured image: The Ozark, Arkansas, Hillbillies mascot (Photo courtesy Ozark Public Schools)
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