What’s in a name?….. As high school sports ramps up, names can be a lot of fun for a variety of reasons. Who named them, why do they have the name they do and how do opponents react?
By Marvin Baker
North Dakota has a number of unique names for high school sports. One of them is the Valley City Hi- Liners. This team got its name from a timber trestle bridge just north of town that has transported goods by rail across the Sheyenne Valley since 1908. The school nickname at Donnybrook, now closed, was also called Hi-Liners.
Kenmare has the Honkers. An unusual name that gets a lot of attention because it is the only one of its kind in North Dakota. It isn’t unique nationwide, though, as a baseball team in Rochester, Minn., is also called the Honkers.
The Max Cossacks are sports teams in McLean County that represent immigrants from Slavic nations who settled in the area. The legend lives on in a high school mascot.
What is a Lobo? I’m sure if you ask anyone from LaMoure, they will be able to tell you. My first guess was a donkey or something. But a Lobo is actually what a timber wolf is called in the southwestern United States.
We also have the Napoleon Imperials. Now who would want to name their school nickname after an individual who raided other countries and seized control of whatever he could? Besides, I don’t think there is one single French person living in Napoleon.
It turns out, the nickname came from an original settler to Logan County whose first name was Napoleon. We all love animal nicknames, and one of them that is unique in North Dakota is the St. John Woodchucks. In recent years, they’ve had good football teams, which seems odd seeing how a woodchuck is such a small animal.
It gets even better with the Central Cass Squirrels. My guess is this team was named because squirrels are very quick and agile, as well as clever and know how to get the job done.
Shifting gears, there’s the Ashley Aces. Teams that might come in from Montana to play the Aces might think Ashley is a town full of gamblers. Instead, it may be that Ashley’s nickname came from the World War I fighter pilots called “aces,” or something very similar.
Two teams, not even close to each other, use the same theme of water for their nicknames. The Strasburg Clippers are named after the clipper ships that once sailed the Atlantic Ocean. And, the Beach Buccaneers aren’t named after the football team in Tampa Bay. It came from someplace else because Beach had its name before Tampa Bay, which began in 1976. Maybe Beach, N.D., could sue for copyright infringement and be the richest high school team in the nation.
There’s another team name among North Dakota athletics that, I’m sure, makes the clergy cringe every time they hear it. It’s the Bismarck Demons. However, it turns out to be a very popular name and generates a lot of revenue since Bismarck teams often do very well.
Thus far, there hasn’t been any petitions to withdraw the name, but years ago, the Devils Lake Satans changed their name to the Firebirds. There’s also the Hettinger Black Devils, which just has a softer impact because of the word black in front of devils.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the New Salem Holsteins. Hey, this is an animal, just like the Woodchucks, so what’s the big deal? The Holsteins connotate a lucrative agricultural industry.
We also have Braves, Indians and Warriors. What gets me is the Parshall Lady Braves. By definition a brave is a young Indian male who is noble, peaceful and provides for his family. Bottineau also has the Braves, but at least the girls teams are called the Stars. Perhaps the most interesting name in the history of North Dakota high school sports would have to be the Ayr Rifles. This little town in Cass County had some great girls basketball teams until the late 1960s when the school closed.
Sheyenne, which doesn’t have a team any longer, was called the Phantoms. Do you think they might have frightened their opponents into losing? Starkweather, which has been merged with Munich for years, was called the Storm Kings. Did they chase after tornadoes? Anyway, when they merged with the Munich Magic, the coop became known as the Magic Storm. You also have to check out these South Dakota names: Sturgis Brown Scoopers, Newell Irrigators and Pine Ridge Thorpes.