It’s an aspect of sports that, at the end of the day, doesn’t really matter. But without it, sports would not be the same.
I’m talking, of course, about nicknames. Some teams are known more for their nicknames than the cities they represent. No one says, “I’m a fan of Boston baseball,” they say, “I’m a fan of the Red Sox.”
Some nicknames have even been taken a step further. NFL fans know that when someone says, “The Boys,” they’re talking about the Dallas Cowboys. When baseball fans hear, “The Bravos” or the “Bronx Bombers,” they know you’re speaking of the Atlanta Braves or the New York Yankees. Even in college, you hear references such as “the Tide” (Alabama), “the Dawgs” (Georgia, and yes, unfortunately that’s the way it’s spelled) and “the Noles” (Florida State).
Through all levels of sports, nicknames define a team, school or program. Some are great (Fighting Irish), some are overly used (Bulldogs, Wildcats and pretty much any NFL mascot), and some simply shouldn’t exist at all (I’m still not quite sure what a Canuck is).
And we can’t forget the downright bizarre, such as the University of Santa Cruz Banana Slugs or the St. Louis University Billikens, an elfish creature that came to an art professor in a dream.
For me, the uncommon nicknames are the best. These can even be found at the prep level. Sickles High, in Tampa, are the Gryphons, a fictional character with the head, talons and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion made famous in Lewis Carroll’s book “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” I thought I found a gem in one of my old coverage schools in northeast Georgia — the Jefferson High Dragons — only to discover that there is a school of the same name and mascot in Tampa. Although, I do prefer the Georgia school’s red, white and blue color scheme over Tampa Jefferson’s blue and yellow.
When tweeting out promotional teasers for their 2013 football preview Aug. 15, our partners at the Tampa Bay Times tweeted a photo of Strawberry Crest’s Alex Carswell and Tristan Hyde with the message: “We always said Strawberry Crest should’ve been the Fighting Berries.”
Although the post was all in good fun, it got me thinking. If Plant City’s three area high schools didn’t carry the nicknames or mascots they have, what would be good alternatives?
So, in the sake of harmless fun, here are my suggestions for name changes — should school administrators experience sudden change of heart or if college or pro teams get an urge to slap on a lawsuit for naming rights.
Before the current Plant City High School was built, area students attended what is now Tomlin Middle School for their high school years. That location graduated 17 classes, from 1956 to 1972, holding the nickname the “Planters,” the school’s mascot before being changed to the current Raiders nickname.
The Planters nickname was fitting for rural Plant City, and while it may not be as intimidating as the Raiders, it’s uniqueness and ties with the area carry a lot of weight.
What makes the Raiders work is the original logos and unforgettable aqua/orange color scheme. It’s refreshing to see that the school didn’t just “borrow” the Oakland Raiders logo and change the colors, like so many other high schools across the country.
If the name had to be changed, I would steal one from PCHS flag football coach Larry Langston and go with the “Vandals.” Langston used the nickname for his team during a summer flag football tournament at Otis Andrews Park. It keeps the Raider feel but is a lesser-used nickname.
The Cougars nickname fits into the “overly used” category, but at least Durant didn’t take the easy way out.
Like Plant City, they carry original logos. While the blue cougar head resembling the purple rendition of the Kansas State Wildcats still can be seen around school, the football team came out with a new cougar head logo last season. It especially looks sharp with Durant’s navy blue/gold color scheme.
But, if there is one thing that people think of when thinking of Durant, it’s the rural surroundings of the school. The front of the school and the football practice fields are bordered by cow pastures. If the wind hits just right on a Friday night, opponents can smell Durant’s four-legged neighbors.
So, why not play off that? The Durant Thundering Herd has a nice ring to it. Sure, it would be taking one from Marshall University, but it’s still more original than the current mascot.
If you wanted to even go more original, how about the Durant Ranchers?
With a unique school name already, finding a good nickname for Strawberry Crest is no easy task.
Like the other two Plant City-area schools, SCHS took the common nickname route with the “Chargers” but switched it up with an original-ish logo of a horse’s head.
The school colors of black and red are common-but-attractive look, so most mascots would pop under that color scheme.
As silly as it may sound, having the “Fighting Berries” as the school’s mascot would not be so bad. Just picture a giant strawberry wearing high tops and boxing gloves roaming the sidelines at football games.
It may not be the most intimidating mascot in the world, but it would sure garner a lot of attention. Schools should take pride in their mascots, but it’s also about having fun — and what’s more fun than a giant berry with a fierce scowl on his face?
Plus, teams are ultimately remembered by how they perform, so I can’t think of anything better than seeing the “Fighting Berries” being crowned state champions one day.
In response to a Plant City Times & Observer Facebook post, readers Dona Brigg and Lori Kilbride Bean suggested “Seeds of Destruction.”
I guess that covers all the bases.