Which Illinois high school has the coolest nickname? Here are our favorites
From the staid and cliché to the original and absurd, Illinois high school sports nicknames run the gamut.
Our statewide team of high school sports reporters is back with more about what it loves about high school sports — this time by sharing favorite nicknames and mascots.
Each picked a nickname from their part of the state and another nickname from somewhere else in the Land of Lincoln — and explained how the nickname came to be.
Favorite stadiums:Who has the best Illinois high school football stadium?
Favorite rivalries:Which Illinois high school rivalry is best?
Rockford East E-Rabs
This nickname has long confused opponents. "They called us the A-Rabs. They had no idea who we were," said Gary Giardini, who coached East to the 1985 Class 5A state football title.
East has been the E-Rabs since Rockford High, then one of the state's largest schools with 3,600 students, split into East and West in 1940. Rockford, the first school to win three state basketball titles, had been the Rabs for its colors (red and black), which East kept. "I think they got it from the military tradition of calling their units by the different colors on their collars or cuffs, the black-and-tans, the blues, the grays," Giardini said.
Sportswriters once came up with one of MLB's great team nicknames, calling Cleveland the Naps for 12 years after they traded for Hall of Fame second baseman Napoleon Lajoie. Give sportswriters another assist for Plano, which was first called the Reapers in a 1946 newspaper story because they had "harvested" four basketball wins in a row. Plano is best known for the Plano-Sandwich football rivalry, which began in 1897 and has Sandwich leading 55-51-4.
Rochelle has long been known as the Hub City because of the way it intersects several major transportation routes and has grown into an unofficial central hub. So naturally, the local high school sports teams are nicknamed the Hubs.
Lincoln Highway, the first transcontinental highway in the country, and U.S. 51, one of the first highways to go the full length of the nation north to south, run through the town of just under 10,000 people. It has also grown into a state leader in rail transportation.
"The Hubs" have grown into a household name around the area in reference to the Rochelle Township High School sports teams, as well.
Centralia Orphans basketball has been the talk of the city for nearly a century, and for over 70 years the Orphans have had the winningest high school boys basketball team in the nation.
The program became so popular, and the fans so loyal, that some athletes, upon graduating and leaving to go off to college, say: "I want my kids to grow up to be Orphans."
Canton Little Giants
Canton High School teams once were nicknamed Plowboys and Purple and Old Gold in the town that was home to International Harvester.
But the local newspaper got a new sports editor, Jim Murphy, in 1930. He came from Freeport, Ohio, where the local school was nicknamed Little Giants.
According to research by Canton historian Roy Hopper — who co-wrote a book "Plowboys to Little Giants" — Murphy made reference to the Canton basketball team in 1933 as little guys who could jump big.
Later, on Feb. 11, 1933, he called them Little Giants in a story for the first time. The name stuck.
Teutopolis Wooden Shoes
Bunnies, Pretzels, Caxys. Lots of great unique nicknames among high school teams in Illinois.
The Teutopolis Wooden Shoes are one-of-a-kind, known in the sports world for basketball tradition and the wooden shoes mounted on the wall above the school's packed trophy case, marking past championships.
The school had no nickname when it hired boys basketball head coach John Griffin in 1932. Three years later, he received a pair of shoes made out of Lindenwood, carved by a local master, George Deymann.
Griffin had one shoe painted gold and one silver — as a homecoming game prize — and Teutopolis High School became the Wooden Shoes.
Illinois Valley Central Grey Ghosts
Many theories go into the origin of the Chillicothe-based high school — which is also my alma mater.
Some say it came in 1939 when Chillicothe Township HS basketball players wore new grey uniforms and were waiting for rides home when an opposing fan called them grey ghosts. Others say the nickname was coined when the Chillicothe HS football players ran onto the field in the fog.
Or one account from the 1930s has muddied uniforms didn’t come out the same color and a Journal Star sportswriter wrote that they looked like grey ghosts.
Ultimately, it’s just a cool mascot — especially around Halloween.
Freeport and New Berlin Pretzels
These pretzels are making me thirsty, especially in Freeport and New Berlin.
German baker John Billerbeck made pretzels popular in Freeport. His Billerbeck Bakery sold so many pretzels in Freeport that a local newspaper named it the "Pretzel City", giving the school its nickname.
Regarding New Berlin’s Pretzel nickname, a fan brought pretzels to a basketball game in the 1920s or ‘30s, tossing the salty snack to a player on the bench. Either a sportswriter or announcer then called the hoops team the "pretzel tossers."
A trip to either school is worth it based on their awesome concession stands alone.
This school no longer exists, but it’s one of the most interesting nicknames in Illinois history.
When the Witt basketball team took third in the 1928 state tournament with a win over Griggsville, radio announcers marveled at the speed of the players, according to legend. That led to the creation of the nickname. The last state basketball appearance for the Speedboys came in 1929 and Witt lost 27-18 to Peoria Central in the quarterfinals.
Students in Witt now attend Hillsboro. The school announced it would close in 1995, but a fight between the Nokomis and Hillsboro school districts kept Witt open until 1997.
The school near the Indiana border sports one of the most unusual names in the state. Hoopeston, coined the Sweetcorn Capital of the World, needed laborers to pull — or jerk — the corn from the stalk.
According to legend, in the 1920s, former Danville Commercial-News sports writer Bob Poisall rode the team bus to athletic events — a big no-no today.
Apparently, Poisall grew irritated that the athletes were stuck in the field working instead of reporting on time to make the bus. Whether out of exasperation or in a joking manner, Poisall is said to have called the boys “a bunch of cornjerkers," The name stuck.
The Railsplitters couldn’t possibly be left off the list. Lincoln, of course, is the only town to be named after the 16th president before he became one. Abraham Lincoln also christened his namesake with watermelon juice — hence the unique green-and-red combination.
The nickname alludes to his humble beginnings, and he picked up the sobriquet “the Rail Splitter” during the Illinois Republican state convention in Decatur in 1860 just prior to his actual presidential nomination in Chicago. The story goes that local Decatur politician Richard J. Oglesby supposedly found a rail fence that Lincoln had built with one of his relatives, John Hanks, in the area in 1830.
As historian David Herbert Donald noted in his encompassing biography “Lincoln,” Abe “had little love for his pioneer origins; disliked physical labor and left it as soon as he could.” But the folksy image stuck and the catchy slogan helped catapult him to the White House.
Galesburg Silver Streaks
Here’s another historical reference that just rolls right off the tongue. The Silver Streaks stem from around the 1930s when the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad went through town with its stainless steel train.
But according to an article in the Galesburg Register-Mail, it took a little time for the nickname to stick. That’s because the high school either went by the Red Devils or the Tigers before a student, Bob Hatfield, suggested the Silver Streaks.
Another dandy dozen
A dozen of the most unique nicknames not enough for you? Here's another 12 unique nicknames being used by Illinois high schools.
- Cobden Appleknockers
- DeKalb Barbs
- Dietrich Movin’ Maroons
- Effingham Flaming Hearts
- Elk Grove Grenadiers
- Genoa-Kingston Cogs
- Fisher Bunnies
- Hampshire Whip-Purs
- Lake Forest Academy Caxys
- Polo Marcos
- Wethersfield Flying Geese
- Zion-Benton Zee-Bees