"Indiana Nick Names"

By Dr. Ken
A few of our HELMET HUT readers were kind enough to write and relate that the July and August 2006 columns brought back a flood of memories of their high school football experiences. While writing my REFLECTIONS articles, I too enjoyed many of the memories that passed through my consciousness and was reminded of the value, attraction, and benefits of high school football. If one thinks about their experience, they will most likely recall the friendships and humorous incidents that occurred in the one, two, or three varsity seasons they spent on their high school's field. They will recall the need to subjugate their personal goals for those of the team, the pride they had in doing so while representing their high school and neighborhood to others, and the many lessons learned that were called upon, consciously or unconsciously, over the course of years or decades. Although tragic from the perspective of a high school player fighting to preserve a late-game lead, dug in on one's own three yard line, there is also retrospective humor in recalling a linemate's bravado in yelling out to the opponent that he was going "to knock their jock off" and then watching him get pushed four yards deep into the end zone. Successfully overcoming a two touchdown lead to a superior opponent and winning what seemed to be an unwinnable game can be a reminder that all things are possible, even in the adult world.
The tradition of high school football lives on in many places and still teaches virtues that are otherwise hard to come by in daily life. Juxtaposed with the emphasis on individual achievement and the attainment of celebrity that was highlighted in the January 2007 HELMET REFLECTIONS column, these remain important values that need re-emphasis.  Among my most enjoyable activities were visits to my in-laws' residence in West Lafayette, Indiana, home of Purdue University. Their home in fact was but a few minutes walk from the campus and during late summer visits, watching Purdue football practices were a satisfying and expected part of each vacation trip. Local high school football however, also offered quite a bit. Like some other states Indiana finishes pre-season football preparation with round-robin exhibition games where four teams square off against each other for a quarter each.  I would drive my father-in-law, a Purdue professor and researcher, to locales within an hour's drive from the campus and watch the West Lafayette Red Devils, Lafayette Jefferson Bronchos, Harrison Raiders, Crawfordsville Athenians, Frankfort Hot Dogs, Benton Central Bisons, Southmont Mounties, and other small town squads battle it out. In the process we would also be reminded that Indiana has the best across-the-board high school nicknames in the country, and in many cases, helmets and uniforms to match.
These annual round-robin "Jamborees" or "Jams" as they were referred to, allowed family, friends, and neighbors to come out in force prior to the season, raise funds that would help purchase needed equipment and uniforms, and provide the interested observer with an opportunity to not only get a glimpse of the team's playing possibilities, but a chance to scrutinize a number of uniforms to look for changes, interesting designs, and unusual color combinations. Linking the school mascot or school name to the production of the uniform was always an interesting "side benefit" for me. Leading to questions like, "What helmet logo is used for a Hot Dog?" and "How can Alice be a school nickname?", here are a few interesting Indiana High School football tidbits for our HELMET HUT readers:
-Yes, the Vincennes Lincoln nickname is in fact The Alices. Their original school building was erected in 1897 and the unusual nickname may have been adopted after Alice of Old Vincennes, from Maurice Thompson's story. There is another local theory that when Lincoln High School won the Indiana State Basketball Championship For Boys in 1923, it was referred to as being like "an Alice In Wonderland coming up through the ranks to win" experience as Lincoln was not expected to be a factor in the state tournament and their victory mirrored the same level of fantasy as the well-known tale. In either case, the green and white of the Vincennes Lincoln Alices is carried forth into gridiron battle.
- My wife is recognized as one of the best all-time sprinters in the history of Indiana High School track annals and still a record holder many decades after her graduation. She has always been proud of the schools that her West Lafayette Red Devils played against and the small towns in which she competed. Though West Lafayette High School was a proud member of the Hoosier Conference and their regular athletic opponents included the Delphi Oracles, the Sheridan Blackhawks, and the Benton Central Bisons, there were out-of-conference meets and the state meet. Where else could one compete against the Crawfordsville Athenians, the Logansport Berries, the Mishawaka Cavemen, the North Dubois Jeeps, or of course, those Frankfort Hot Dogs?
- Some of the Indiana high school nicknames are obvious, at least to me: The Town Of Speedway is home to The Indianapolis Motor Speedway and of course, the great Indianapolis 500 race thus, the Speedway Sparkplugs is self-explanatory. The Rockville Rox is reminiscent of Long Island's own East Rockaway Rocks and if you had a school named Highlands such as Anderson Highland High School, Scots would be a very acceptable nickname. Hobart's history as a leading manufacturer of bricks lent itself well to the Hobart Brickies name, one carried with pride into a number of state championships through the 1990's. The aforementioned Mishawaka Cavemen can thank the numerous caves in the area for their name and the less obvious Andrean Fighting 59ers in Merrillville opened in 1959. If further reinforcement of the name was needed, the building stands at 5959 Broadway. If you got to watch the sun come up every morning over the Ohio River and lived in Rising Sun, Shiners would be a perfectly good school nickname.
-Would being an Eel (Eminence and Clay City), an Artesian (Martinsville), a Squire (Manchester), or a Zebra (Rochester) serve to frighten the opponent? Perhaps but I can recall my wife stating how ridiculous it was for my former high school to be known as "The Golden Tornadoes" or any colored Tornado. "What do you do for a mascot?" I was asked and it was a question I couldn't answer as I couldn't think of any depiction of a weather-related event that served as a mascot.       
-A number of the high schools weren't content to have reasonable and identifiable nicknames, they were either proud enough or athletically aggressive enough to utilize names that emphasized their intent to excel. On Long Island, the proximity of two major internationally known airports, JFK and LaGuardia, may have contributed to the naming of the East Meadow Jets for example, and Indiana Hauser High School are also the Jets, but Adams Central are not "regular" Jets, they are the Flying Jets. Sullivan High School in the southwestern part of the state was not content to be arrows but rather, Golden Arrows which gives the name a real emphasis. Why settle for being a Charger when you can be a North Montgomery Chargin' Charger?
- The River Forest Ingots have a philosophical explanation for their unusual nickname. Noting the dictionary definition of ingot as "a mass of refined metal cast into some convenient shape for transportation", they explain that their "mass" of raw material, their students, are refined or "cultivated in taste, manners, appreciation, and thought" into a "stage of perfection." Refined metal refers to their tempering of spirit where students "will strive to obtain the proper temperament" so that they will always give their best effort, and the molding of each individual assures the fulfillment of each student's potential. Being transported through the River Forest system allows for one's diploma or ticket that sends each individual off to their life's destination, all in all, a very philosophical and well thought out school mascot designation, one that is unique.
-The Dubois Jeeps had me stumped when I discovered through my wife's comments that an automobile was not their school mascot. The Thimble Theater comic strip of the 1930's that featured Popeye introduced "Eugene The Jeep" on March 16, 1936. Eugene was discovered in Africa and given to Popeye's girlfriend Olive Oyl by her Uncle Ben and according to the official Dubois explanation, he resembled "a bear in terms of ears and head, but he has a very large nose, a long tail, and a protruding stomach. He is known for his superhuman abilities." Eugene was chosen as a mascot by a group of Dubois basketball players and the coach and principal agreed. Yellow, roughly the size of a dog, and always telling the truth, his only word was and is  "Jeep" and he has powers that enable him to move from one physical dimension to another. Thus was born, the Dubois Jeeps!  If one wonders how unique a mascot can be, it should be noted that South Webster (Ohio) High School are also The Jeeps.
The nicknames are great and in many cases, so are the uniforms of the high school teams in Indiana.