Any high school can call itself the Spartans or Patriots or Huskies. But the Thunder Chickens? That takes inspiration — and a little insurrection.
That’s the nickname for Doane Stuart, a private school in Rensselaer. It came about, as a lot of nicknames in sports once did, over time, rather than by edict.
(Where would you rank Thunder Chickens among local team nicknames? Read on for my Top 10.)
Doane Stuart had no mascot when it was founded in 1975 out of the merger of Kenwood Academy and St. Agnes School. In the early 1990s, students, with alumni input and administration final say, started a campaign to designate one.
Bill Brandow, the upper school student council president at the time, recalled the upper school students were looking for “something both unique and slightly self-deprecating.
“We felt that DS needed to be represented by something strong but a little silly, and that didn’t take itself too seriously,” he said in an email.
Thunder Chickens it was. Doane Stuart students loved the name. Alumni and administrators? Not so much. It got turned down.
But the name percolated. A year or so later, a student named Christian Grattan got a chicken suit and started dressing up for games. Teams started unofficially calling themselves the Thunder Chickens.
The name, regardless of the administration’s wishes, stuck. Eventually it came to be embraced by the school.
Thunder Chickens. That’s not a good nickname.
That’s a great nickname.
(Some Thunder Chicken trivia: That is also the nickname of a Marine Corps transport unit. More? Probably not known to students in the early 1990s, but in the early 1970s, undergrads at Stanford University tried to change their nickname to Thunderchickens, but got shot down.)
Want a bad nickname? Try the Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences and Sage, also known — respectively and forgettably — as the Panthers and Gators.
Generic. Boring. They ain’t Pitt or Florida, so why go with the derivative?
Now think if they adopted, say, the Albany College of Pharmacy Lab Coats and the Sage Philosophers. Students could get behind that, and the marketing opportunities would be huge.
Nicknames should be unique, branding the school as much as its name. They should capture the imagination, by whimsy or originality or honoring the community in a thoughtful way.
The sports world needs another Eagles as much as the classic rock world does.
With that, here is a mostly subjective list of the best high school team nicknames in Section II. A couple of criteria:
Native American names were not considered. Period. And there are a ton in Section II. While none are as egregious as the Washington Redskins, schools in 2015 need to seriously consider the appropriateness of nicknames such as Braves, Indians, etc.
You share a nickname with a pro team, you’re out: Goodbye, Patriots, all you Falcons, Bengals, Sabres, Tigers . . . and Eagles. Same for major college nicknames, whether shared with big schools (Bulldogs) or mid-majors (Blackbirds).
The minor leagues were not considered, since nicknames there are parochial. And there may be other schools outside the region that share these nicknames (at least two on the list are also the nickname of other high schools out of state), but they, too, are unique to the ear here.
Without bias (I did not go to school in the area), here is my Top 10:
10. Riders (Ichabod Crane). Actually, didn’t Crane get knocked off his horse in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”? Never mind: The nickname still works.
9. Witches (Greenwich). This wins in the best wordplay category. (Honorable mention: The Fordians of Waterford and the Rugged Rams of the Rug City of Amsterdam.)
8. Cannoneers (Watervliet)/Railroaders (Whitehall) — tie. Both uniquely draw from the distinct industrial histories of the communities.
6. Sir Bills (Johnstown). Johnstown’s teams (girls are the Lady Bills), are named after Sir William Johnson, the city’s founder and one of the largest landowners in the British colonies. Bonus points: His character gets offed in the video game “Assassin’s Creed III.”
5. Jesters (Emma Willard). With the Jester on the sidelines, Emma Willard tries to steal conference crowns. (Apologies to Don McLean, his song “American Pie,” and you.)
4. None (Holy Names). The Catholic girls’ school doesn’t have a nickname. Which makes them the Nones. Which, from a homonymic standpoint, is a great nickname.
3. Scotties (Ballston Spa). If this was a mere ode to Scottish heritage, it would not make the list. But Scotties comes not from a people, but a person: Bill Scott, the legendary Ballston Spa football coach hired at the district in 1940 who continued to work with teams through 1999, long after he officially retired.
If Schenectady had followed a similar path, instead of the Patriots, they could be known as the Siggies, after trailblazing coach Sigmund “Sig” Makofski. Which, come to think of it, also would have made the Top 10.
2. Golden Horde (Granville). Naming yourself after the military confederation that began under the rule of Ghengis Khan is pretty hardcore, and strikes fear in anyone who took a world history class. On the other hand you have . . .
1. Thunder Chickens (Doane Stuart). C’mon: Games are supposed to be fun.