The best high school sports team nicknames share three characteristics:
2.) Historical relevance to the community the school serves and/or to the person for whom the school is named.
3.) Suitability for all of a school’s teams.
Failing to meet the third standard is where the Fayette County Public Schools went awry this week after the school system unveiled “Stallions” as the nickname for the new Frederick Douglass High School.
Had the new school been in Kansas City, “Stallions” might have passed as an acceptably generic synonym for “horses.”
It is not political correctness run amok to think a new school opening next fall ought to choose a nickname that is an equally comfortable fit for both its boys and girls sports teams.
The school system was correct to withdraw “Stallions” within a day, and it doesn’t need to revisit that decision.
Still, the shame about the nickname imbroglio is that Frederick Douglass officials seem to have been working from the right impulse.
A school that will stand on land that used to be part of the famed Hamburg Place horse farm, producer of six Kentucky Derby champions, is right to seek an equine tie.
The choice of Keeneland green paired with a deep orange as school colors produced a distinctive and attractive uniform combination.
Had “Thoroughbreds” instead of “Stallions” been the chosen nickname, all would have been well.
(Part of the appeal of Stallions might have been no other school in Kentucky is using it. But only two, Newport Central Catholic and Harrison County, are using any variation of Thoroughbreds).
High school team nicknames are a fascinating subject. You tend only to hear about them when someone takes offense to a nickname. From a statewide perspective, the far bigger problem has long been a mind-numbing conformity and lack of originality.
In Kentucky high school sports, there are 17 schools whose teams are known as Eagles. That is followed closely by Wildcats (15 schools), Panthers (13), Tigers (12), Bulldogs (11), Cardinals (10), Colonels (nine), Cougars (nine) and Raiders (nine).
Conversely, our state’s best high school sports nicknames — Corbin Redhounds, Somerset Briar Jumpers, Bracken County Polar Bears, Silver Grove Big Trains, Lloyd Memorial Juggernauts — show that a little imagination and a willingness to stand out go a long way.
Not counting Frederick Douglass, only three of Fayette County’s eight KHSAA-affiliated schools have what I would classify as quality nicknames.
Bryan Station is the only school in Kentucky that goes by “Defenders.” That earns an A for singularity.
“Generals” is the perfect nickname for Lafayette High School, which carries the name of the Marquis de Lafayette, the young French military officer who served under George Washington during the American Revolution.
Sayre “Spartans” might not seem wildly creative, but until South Warren opened, no other high school in Kentucky was using that nickname. It also likely got cooler for students after Gerard Butler’s 2006 cartoonish action film 300.
On the other hand, named for the 19th century American statesman from Lexington, Henry Clay High School should be the “Senators,” not the Blue Devils.
“Commodores” is a ponderous nickname for Tates Creek. How about the Tates Creek “Snapping Turtles”?
“Knights” is OK for Lexington Catholic, but “Saints” would be more historically resonant.
Lexington Christian should ditch the overused “Eagles,” and go with “Soldiers.” That way, fans at LCA games could yell “Onward, Christian Soldiers.”
In Kentucky, the shackles of team nickname group-think seem hard to shake. As a school, Frederick Douglass can still get this right.