Enough of all the Lions, Tigers (the most common nickname among high school athletic teams, by the way) and Bulldogs.
Those are as numerous and dull as a run up the middle in football and a mid-range jump shot in basketball. This article is about the creative, the different and the unusual and so, PubClub.com presents our picks for the 10 very best nicknames and mascots for high school and college sports teams. These names are not only unusual and even funny, but they are a headline writer’s dream.
And, in keeping with sports tradition, we do it as a countdown to build the drama. Think last-second three-pointer in March Madness and a fourth-and-goal in a college playoff or rivalry game.
10.) St. Mary’s Gaels
What the heck is a Gael, you ask? Well it’s not a hurricane-force wind (tho that would make sense but would not put it on the list) but instead it comes from the word Gael meaning Irishmen. Legend has it that legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice (he of the Four Horsemen fame) came up with this because there were so many Irish players on the football team. Taking advantage of this odd nickname, the athletic department calls its student section the “GaleForce.” They are one reason that St. Mary’s basketball team is consistently able to knock off powerful Gonzaga in it’s high school-sized gym.
9.) UCSD Tritons
Notice how many California schools are on this list. Here, a Triton is a “mighty and fierce sea warrior” and since the University California San Diego is just a few miles from the Pacific Ocean some clever folks felt that it made for a good – and certainly creative – mascot. Hey it was good and creative enough to make this list!
8.) Alabama Crimson Tide
If you are among the many who wonder why an elephant is on the sidelines of Alabama football games while the team’s nickname is the Crimson Tide, here is the answer.
The school’s original nickname is the Red Elephants. Well, in 1925, the football team stomped to an undefeated season and earned a berth in the Rose Bowl – unheard-of at the time for any school not from the East Coast – and upset heavily-favored Washington. Afterward, an LA Times sportswriter penned that “mighty Washington was swept away by a powerful Crimson Tide.”
The new title stuck and the creativity of it earns Alabama a place in PubClub.com’s best college nicknames list.
In a somewhat related story, a sportswriter also gave the marching back its nickname. In the 50s, when the team was terrible but the band was good, a writer in the press box said to another scribe that “at least the band looks like a million dollars.” As a result the band is today known as the “Million Dollar Band.”
7.) UC Santa Barbara Gauchos
The school’s original nickname was pretty cool in itself; they were the Roadrunners. But back 1936, the school’s coeds led a charge to change to mascot to an Argentine cowboy based on a 1927 movie The Gaucho starring Douglas Fairbanks. A far better nickname for this notorious top party school (also placing the university on PubClub.com’s rankings in that category) is the students’ nickname for the letters UCSB: You Can Study Buzzed.
Gotta love it.
6.) Stetson University Hatters
There is great story on the name of the university as well as its one-of-a-kind nickname. And here’s the story, direct from the school’s athletic department website, Go Hatters:
“The unlikely combination of a famous hat manufacturer and a university produced a novel nickname for Stetson University. The athletic teams are called ‘Hatters,’ reflecting the university’s association with John B. Stetson, maker of the well-known Stetson hats. It all began in 1883 when Henry DeLand founded the DeLand (FL) Academy. Three years later, after a disastrous freeze affecting the citrus industry left DeLand in financial distress, Stetson, who had a winter home in DeLand, became interested in the school. At Deland’s request, Stetson was made chairman of the Board of Trustees in 1889 and the university was renamed in his honor. Stetson University fielded the first football team in Florida in 1901. The name ‘Hatter’ was used then and is still in use today.”
5.) Hollywood (CA) High School Sheiks
This Los Angeles high school whose alumni include several well-known Hollywood stars – Carol Burnett, Cher, Judy Garland, Carol Lombard, Lana Turner and John Ritter, just to name a few – would naturally have a nickname and mascot named after a movie.
Thus the Sheiks, and the mascot is a portrait of Rudolph Valentino in the movie The Sheik.
4.) UC Irvine Anteaters
This odd nickname came from two water polo players who, legend has it, liked the anteater in the “B.C.,” comics. If you ask me that’s an animated version of what really happened to inspire the nickname. You see, water polo players are big-time partiers and I suspect they pounded a few beers in a bar after a big win and came up with it at that time.
Even more comical is the name of the mascot: Peter the Anteater. That’s hardly intimidating to opponents but if the goal is to make them laugh so much they are not paying attention to the game, then it is probably an effective name.
The baseball team plays in – of course – Anteater Ballpark.
3.) Coastal Carolina Chanticleers
This name became known to the college football world in 2020 when its team came seemingly out of nowhere to flirt with an undefeated seasons and a national Top 20 ranking. So what the heck is a Chanticleer (prounounced SHON-ti-cleer).
Well, it’s rooster (thus making it the second rooster mascot in the state of South Carolina; the South Carolina Gamecocks being the other). The name comes from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. It is a fierce rooster, the baddest in the barn.
“For crowing there was not his equal in all the land. His voice was merrier than the merry organ that plays in church, and his crowing from his resting place was more trustworthy than a clock,” Chaucer wrote. “His comb was redder than fine coral and turreted like a castle wall, his bill was black and shone like a jet, and his legs and toes were like azure. His nails were whiter than the lily and his feathers were like burnished gold.”
2.) UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs
Why the heck would a team name itself the Banana Slugs, you ask? Because they are slow but slippery?
Nope. It is because there are actually a lot of banana slugs – fat, yellow worms, really – all around Santa Cruz. So the nickname reflects the surrounding area, which is really cool. And it sure as heck beats a name like the Tigers, where there are no tigers anywhere near any of the schools that use that overused nickname.
1.) The Yuma High School (Arizona) Criminals
We could not make this one up; it really exists! Yuma High School in Arizona has – no kidding – the Criminals as their mascot. “Yuma High School, proud home of the Criminals” is the title of its Facebook page. The reason is easy to explain for the city is home of the Yuma Territorial Prison and the school started its classes in the old prison.
Imagine the headlines the local papers have probably gotten out of this nickname:
When an official’s call costs the team a game: “It’s Criminal How This Game Ended.”
When an officials’ call goes their way or they make a big and unexpected play: “Criminals Steal Win From Rival.”
After winning a game in a second-half rout: “Criminals Break Out In Second Half To Win Game.”
Well, I can go on and on, but you get the idea. And so, the Yuma High School Criminals are PubClub.com’s top sports nickname and mascot!
BONUS: The Worst Nickname In Sports Is…
The absolutely worst sports nickname and mascot goes to the MLB’s Cleveland Guardians. As bad as it is in the first place, it’s named after pylons on a bridge. Well, it gives the city another use for the old nickname of the former stadium, the Mistake By The Lake.