Local Sports: in light of the NCAA

The summer is almost over and high school sports are just around the corner. During the summer, the NCAA banned eighteen teams from post-season play because of their names and/or mascots. What about RI? Where do our team names come from?

Usually a team chooses a fearsome person/animal or has some geohistorical reasoning behind a name. Toll Gate’s team is named after the older Greek gods who used to rule the world in Greek mythology. Hendricken’s teams are named after a predatory bird, the hawk. The Toll Gate Titans and The Hendricken Hawks also follow professional teams like the Philadelphia Phillies (a female horse) and use alliteration, that is, repeating the same sound in the name.

The Warwick Vet Hurricanes, on the other hand, chose a name that comes from the geohistorical background of the area. RI, like Carolina Coast, can be prone to hurricanes…the same reasoning of the name change when the Hartford Whalers went south and became the Carolina Hurricanes. The Pilgrim Patriots are the combination of a couple of themes in team names: alliteration and history. We all know of Warwick’s contribution leading up to the American Revolution with the burning of the Gaspee. Like the New England football team, Pilgrim is named after the history of the area.

There are more than fifty-one other high school sports teams in RI, why are the called what they’re called?

Most of the other high schools in Rhode Island chose a predatory animal: the Barrington Eagles, Cranston West Falcons, Johnston Panthers, North Providence Cougars, and the Fatima Tigers. In addition, the Bayview Bengals, Lincoln Lions, Lincoln School Lynx, Tollman Tigers and the Tiverton Tigers are not only predatory animals, but also use alliteration. Smithfield also used alliteration when naming their teams the Smithfield Sentinels –I mention this here because the mascot is a wild boar Yes, believe it or not pigs make good guards!). While not choosing a predatory animal, Bishop Keough (Koalas) and Burrillville (Broncos) nether-the-less chose a wild animal and used alliteration. Westerly (The Bulldogs) and Mount Hope (Huskies) chose popular dogs that are often used in college programs. LaSalle Academy chose the ram, who are often seen battling each other with their horns.

Portsmouth Academy is also named after a non-predatory creature. Two of the oldest baseball teams used non-predatory birds: the Cardinals and the Orioles. Its just coincidence, but the Portsmouth teams happened to be called the Ravens, which is also the name of Baltimore’s football team. Of course, the Baltimore Ravens are so named because of famous son of Baltimore, Edgar Allen Poe.

Several programs in the state adopted supposedly fearsome peoples for their team name:
The Central Knights, PCD Knights, Central Falls Warriors, Wheeler Warriors, Exeter-West Greenwich Scarlet Knights, Ponaganset Chieftains, the Shea Raiders (another term for pirates), and the Rogers Vikings. The Vikings are, of course, also the professional football team in Minnesota. The Minnesota team is named in honor of the heavy Scandinavian population in the upper Midwest. While RI does not have a significant Scandinavian population itself, the name has caught on. Interestingly, the Vikings were originally called the Northmen (later shortened to Norsemen and Normans). The North Smithfield teams are called Northmen which plays upon the towns name as well as a fear-inspiring people of history. The final team in the “fearsome-peoples” category might be the West Warwick Wizards…of course, they were named well after the Salem Which Trials and well before Harry Potter.

Like the Warwick Vets and Block Island Hurricanes, Cranston East uses a weather term for its sports’ teams. The Cranston East Thunderbolts and the Chariho Chargers share this theme with many professional teams, such as the Tampa Bay Lightning, The Colorado Avalanche, The Miami Heat and the Phoenix Suns. Similarly, Hope High School’s Blue Wave is both weather-named and local: recognizing Rhode Island’s deep connection to the ocean.

Woonsocket and East Providence don’t use a Rhode Island connection, but they’re somewhat connected to each other. Woonsocket’s team name, the Villa Novans, means “new town” in Latin and plays on the noted Pennsylvania school of Villanova. But that’s not the only team named for a “town.” East Providence has one of the oldest team names in the states: The Townies, that is, the locals.

East Greenwich didn’t stay local with its connections, but went over seas. While both East Greenwich and the Los Angeles Arena Football teams are called the Avengers, the term was popularized by the same-titled British TV series of heroes fighting to save the world from the bad guys.

Of course, no matter how hard one tries, it’s hard to figure out how two Providence schools got their names. “Kilties” is the pluralized form a Scottish male dress garb, but as I said about North Smithfield’s Vikings, there isn’t really a large Scottish population here in RI.

The color purple, not very common in Scottish kilt patterns, has been used for honoring important people since Roman times. Perhaps that is why Classical High School, where students have to test into the school, adopted the color for its teams’ name.

To me, though, some of the most interesting choices in team names were done with history in mind. Moses Brown’s teams are named after the religion of their patron: Quakerism. How many other teams have you ever named after a religion? What about a chicken? Have you ever heard of a team named after a chicken!? But the RI School of the Deaf are known as the Rhode Island Reds, a locally breed chicken engrained in our history.

Cumberland (Clippers), Narragansett (Mariners), The Rocky Hill (Mariners) and North Kingston (Skippers) all named their teams to honor Rhode Island’s proud connection to the sea. Middletown (Islanders) also honors their geography and connection to the sea. In addition, Davies, Portsmouth and Coventry all honor Rhode Island’s part in the American Revolution and are called The Patriots, like Pilgrim High School. Coventry has also been known as the Oakers –that’s an interesting reference to its participation in the Charter Oak Conference. This conference is named after the legendary tree in which the Connecticut colonists hid their Charter from the British authorities. Indeed, Connecticut is one of the only colonies to have kept its charter through the Revolution.

While the New Orleans Saints and the St. Rays Saints share the same name, they have different meanings. The professional football team takes its name from embracing the French history of the area and the French St. Louis IX, King of France (who also gave us the name of St. Louis, Missouri. Indeed, the symbol of the New Orleans’ team is the fleur d’lys from the King’s coat of arms. The St. Raphael’s Academy Saints, take their name from another French saint: St. John Baptiste de LaSalle. The founder of the LaSalle Christian Brother and Patron Saint of all teachers has given RI three high schools (De LaSalle in Newport has since closed), a middle school, an alternate educational school, and a family service program. Similarly, the St. Andrew Saints, take their sports’ name from the “saint” in St. Andrew’s.

Another “Saint” school, St. George’s, is known as the Dragons. This is because St. George is credited with chasing all the dragons out of England, of which he is the patron saint. Mount St. Charles is also named after a saint. Their sports’ teams take the name of Mounties. This is a pun on the name of the school and the national police of Canada. In naming themselves after these “mounted” police, Mount St. Charles also embraces the strong connection between Woonsocket and Canada.

When The Prout School became coed, they absorbed the junior high at Msgr. Clark School (and has since moved the junior high back to Clark) sports’ name: The Crusaders. When it was the Clark Crusaders, the school was using alliteration as well as embracing its Catholic history. Since its no longer alliterating and the previous Pope apologized for the Crusades, I’m not sure the name makes much sense anymore.

South Kingston has been criticized for its name as well from some people. The Rebels name plays on the “south” in South Kingstown and references American history. In fact, the town has played a strong part in the Civil War with one of the only two RI generals coming from SK (Gen Isaac P. Rodman), the textile factories and the fact that the dominant family had properties in both RI as well as South Carolina.

There is more to a name than just a word. Words have meaning. Expecting parents are notorious for studying baby books and the meaning of names. The NCAA is looking at the meaning of college team names and we can study the issue locally. Looking at our own sports names doesn’t have to have an agenda of banning the use of names; it can just be about appreciating history and tradition.

[Author’s note: There are five other high schools in RI that were not included in this piece. They are: Juanita Sanchez, Master’s Regional Academy, Feinstein High School and the two Catholic boarding schools in Wakefield and Warwick Neck.]

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