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Guido: Colorful origins for school mascots

| Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013, 12:16 a.m.

Well, it's official.

The Armstrong Riverhawks will be born in nearly two years.

That's the school name and mascot for the new Kittanning-Ford City merger, set to get off the ground in September 2015.

The name Armstrong connotes the county and school district that takes up 437 square miles of the county and a little sliver of Indiana County.

Riverhawks is a unique high school name, but the students who entered the name-the-school contest probably didn't realize there's no such bird as a river hawk. Instead, there's a flower known as a river hawk.

Wait until some of the more edgier student sections, particularly in basketball, pick up on that little fact.

My suggestion of Fort Armstrong Admirals didn't make the final cut, but I was pleased when one Armstrong School District board member told me last week that Fort Armstrong was among the finalists.

I liked “Admirals” because of alliterative purposes and the projection of strength and accomplishment. Plus, there are female admirals these days.

Besides that, newspaper headline writers could have had a field day: “Late TD helps Admirals sink Highlands.''

Or, “Admirals torpedo Knoch playoff hopes with late basket.”

At any rate, now might be a good time to examine how other schools came up with nicknames.

Many high school nicknames are alliterative, such as the Valley Vikings, Burrell Buccaneers and Knoch Knights.

• Springdale Dynamos. Easily the coolest nickname in the Alle-Kiski Valley, dynamo is a shortened form of dynamometer. That's an instrument to measure mechanical power, related to Springdale's footprint in the electric power generating industry. It also harkens back to when many WPIAL schools adopted a name that described the local industry. Farrell is still the Steelers. The former Homestead High School was also the Steelers, Pitcairn was called the Railroaders and Ford City was called the Glassers for many years. Franklin Township, the forerunner of Franklin Regional High School, was called the Longhorns because Murrysville then had plenty of farms.

• Hampton Talbots. Students from the school noted the shield for England's House of Hampton featured a dog, now extinct, called a Talbot that was known for its loyalty and hunting ability.

• Leechburg Blue Devils. It has nothing to do with Satanic worship. The Blue Devils, or “les Diables bleus,” were World War I French soldiers. Known for their unique training regimen, they were sent to the French Alps to try to break a stalemate. The Blue Devils captured the public's imagination with their distinctive blue uniforms, capes and berets. Duke University and other colleges adopted the nickname, and high schools soon followed suit.

• North Catholic Trojans. Located in Pittsburgh's Troy Hill section, Trojans was just a natural.

• New Castle Red Hurricanes. Some older schools got their nicknames by accident. When red-clad New Castle dominated WPIAL football in the 1930s, a radio announcer described an effective drive by saying, “New Castle is marching down the field like a red hurricane.” The name stuck.

Some nicknames are naturals such as the Mars Planets, Fox Chapel Foxes and, in yesteryear, the Oakmont Oaks.

Poca (W. Va.) High School is called the Dots.

Some schools take their mascot's name seriously. During the 1970s, Pine-Richland (then known as Richland) had a live ram at its games at old Santacroce Stadium.

George Guido is a Valley News Dispatch scholastic sports correspondent. His column appears Wednesdays.

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