The Indiana High School Athletic Association boys’ basketball tournament kicks off this week. (The girls’ tournament is already underway.) Growing up the IHSAA tournament was my favorite annual sporting event. I loved filling the state’s basketball cathedrals with the other faithful; I loved seeing the best players from other parts of the state (for me this meant Damon Bailey from Bedford and Glenn Robinson from Gary); and I loved the annual reminder that high schools—and particularly Indiana high schools—have some of the best nicknames in all of sports.
In honor of Hoosier Hysteria and the only high school basketball tournament to inspire one of the American Film Institute’s Top 10 Sports Movies, I’ve compiled this list of my eight favorite Indiana high school nicknames:
8. Indianapolis Northwest Space Pioneers
Construction began on Northwest High School in the early 1960s, around the same time the Soviet Union and United States were sending the first people into space. When the school opened in 1963, it adopted a nickname, the Space Pioneers, that would forever refer back to the era of its founding.
7. Washington Hatchets
There is no historical evidence to back up Parson Weems’s claim that, as a child, George Washington took a hatchet, chopped down a cherry tree (for no apparent reason), then confessed to his father saying, “I cannot tell a lie.”
But I cannot tell a lie, either: I love when a school chooses a nickname inspired by an apocryphal story about the its namesake.
Frankly, I’m a little disappointed that none of Indiana’s Franklin schools (Franklin Central, Franklin Community, and Franklin County) call their teams the Kites. (Franklin Central’s nickname is the Flashes, which is close.)
The Hatchets have cleared away the competition in southwestern Indiana en route to seven state championships. Three titles came before the IHSAA divided schools into classes by size; four titles involved Zellers. Luke, Tyler, and Cody are all Washington grads. Each won Indiana’s Mr. Basketball Award and at least one state championship.
6. Jimtown Jimmies
The founders of Jimtown High School in the Jimtown (or Jamestown) community in Elkhart County belong to the Philadelphia Phillies school of nicknaming. I’m not sure if that makes them clever or lazy.
The Jimmies have won 4 football state championships, most recently in 2005, and the 2004 Class 2A boys’ basketball state championship. So they probably don’t care what you think of their nickname.
5.Vincennes Lincoln Alices
Lincoln High School, formerly Vincennes High School, likely owes its unusual nickname to Maurice Thompson’s 1901 novel Alice of Old Vincennes, a tale set in Indiana during the American Revolutionary War.
What I find most interesting about Vincennes Lincoln’s nickname is that the school refers to its girls’ teams as the Lady Alices. Since Alice is a woman’s name (and refers to the book’s heroine, Alice Roussillon), it would make more sense to me to call the girls the Alices and the boys the Gentlemen Alices. Or the Alistairs. Then again, I’ve never understood why schools affix “Lady” to the names of the girls sports teams in the first place. A female wildcat is still a wildcat.
The Alices won boys’ basketball state championships in 1923 and 1981 and a Class 3A baseball title in 2002. Curtis Painter and Pittsburgh Pirates’ shortstop Clint Barmes both were Alices.
4. Speedway Sparkplugs
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway technically resides not in Indianapolis but in the suburban enclave of Speedway (although Unigov complicates everything). The Speedway community takes its connection to motorsports seriously, so much so that they nicknamed their high school sports teams the Sparkplugs.
Ten years ago, the ‘Plugs started their engines and drove all the way to a 2A boys’ basketball championship at nearby Conseco (now Bankers Life) Fieldhouse.
3. Frankfort Hot Dogs
The founders of Frankfort, Indiana, county seat of Clinton County, named the town after Frankfurt, Germany, a city that also lent its name to the frankfurter, a long pork sausage served on a bun. When people today hear “Frankfurt,” they are as likely to think of hot dogs as they are to think of one of Europe’s most important financial centers.
Rather than shy away from the hot dog connection, the people of Frankfort, Indiana embraced it. Frankfort High School proudly refers to itself as the “Home of the Hot Dogs.” Back in the 1920s and 1930s, the Hot Dogs came with extra mustard and relish, and won four boys’ basketball state championships.
2. Delphi Oracles
In ancient Greece, Delphi was home to Pythia, a priestess known as the “Oracle of Delphi” who had a reputation for clairvoyance. In Indiana, Delphi is a community in Carroll County, northeast of Lafayette, that is home to the Delphi High School Oracles.
This past weekend Delphi wrestler Tanner Lynde defeated Westfield’s Lukas Shaeffer to win the state title in the 182-pound weight class. Lynde is the first Oracle to win a state championship.
1. Shoals Jug Rox
I’ve had a fondness for Shoals, Indiana ever since a pair of Shoals residents saw my band play in Indianapolis and invited us to play a VFW post in their hometown. Shoals, a town of 756 on the edge of Hoosier National Forest in Martin County, is known for two things: gypsum mines and the Jug Rock.
The Jug Rock is, according to Wikipedia, “the only free-standing table rock formation East of the Mississippi River.” This geological wonder, pictured below, is also the namesake of the athletic teams at Shoals High School. But the Shoals athletes don’t call themselves the Jug Rocks; they’re the Jug Rox, with an x.