What’s in a name?

Origins of central Illinois mascot names


Have you ever wondered where your schools nickname and/or mascot originated.  The Central Illinois query has been posed, and answers shall be found.  

The first to be screened will be those wild, wacky, and weird names that you wonder, “What went on in those peoples minds.”  Was it the town’s water supply, a misguided school board, or some journalistic faux pas.  

The later has happened more than the media would like to admit.  This article was begun as a research into our own nickname here in Clinton, but Maroons is not that uncommon, even in this area.  So, we will start with the more outlandish or bizarre in no particular order.

First, and most hilarious to most is the moniker for the teams from Fisher, Ill.  Why the “Bunnies?”  It seems that many years ago (1933-34 basketball season) Fisher was in the Paxton Holiday Tournament and began winning.  After a couple of wins, two players began wearing “rabbits feet” for good luck.  This caught on as the entire team began wearing the “good luck charms.”  

One Eddie Jacquin, a reporter for the Champaign News Gazette, noticed this and said something to the effect that “here come those ‘bunny boys’” when Fisher beat Rantoul for the tournament championship.  The name has stuck as the whole community embraced and still embraces the team and it’s nickname.  The “Bunnies” have come to stay.

Next up on the agenda is the twisted nickname for New Berlin (west of Springfield, Illinois) teams.  They have picked up the nickname “Pretzels”.  Again in an early 1930s basketball game, the team was trying a new offensive formation and a local reporter noted the team was ‘running around like “pretzels.” 

Then, to back up the first story, there is a tale (also credited to a reporter) telling of the team at another game throwing pretzels at each other on the bench during the game and the ensuing newspaper article calling them “The Pretzel Throwers.”  Either way the “Pretzels are here to stay.  (Also in this foray are the Freeport, Illinois “Pretzels.”   

There is no magical fairy tale for this team though as they were named to honor the pretzel factory that was in the city.) 

To wind up our first installment (yes, folks, this is going to be an ongoing series) there are the teams from Hoopeston, Ill., Sweet Corn Capital of the World.  

Before the corn pickers and combines of today, corn (and sweet corn) was harvested by hand, “jerking” the ears from the stalks.  Thus the origins of “corn jerking” (or corn husking) was begun.  

In the early 1920s, sports reporter Bob Poisall of the Danville Commercial-News was riding a school bus with the team.  The bus was late as usual due to having to wait for some players who had been in the corn fields picking corn.  

Poisall, frustrated due to the delay, jokingly told the team they would never go anywhere as they were jut a bunch of “cornjerkers.

Coach Glenn Brassel loved his team and the name so it became official.  The emblem was put on uniforms in 1930 and the team mascot “Jerky” was born in 1965. 

This is just the beginning of the local stories from the middle of the Illinois prairie schools.  If there are any you know of or have wondered about, let me know.  Until the next installment, enjoy the names and enjoy your local sports teams.