Why are we Red Raiders?
WHAT'S IN A NAME? Why they're called what they're called
Gazette Sports Reporter Richard Walker is compiling a series of historical reviews of the area's prep football history. This is the 10th in a series that will include a decade-by-decade look at how the sport has grown in the area. It will also include a look at how schools got their nicknames and the area's hottest rivalries. Next week: Who's your rival? -- The hottest rivalries in the area
By Richard Walker (reprinted courtesy Gaston Gazette)
GASTONIA -- Nicknames like Green Wave, Red Raiders, Huskies, Wolves and Ironmen all are common to local high school football fans.
But how does a land-locked city like Gastonia have a team named after a coastal phenomenon like Green Wave? How many Huskies have you ever seen in Gastonia? And what makes Cherryville think its teams should be called Ironmen?
In each case, the truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. The same holds true for other schools both old and new.
Ashbrook High's sports teams have been known as "Green Wave" since the school opened in 1970. The origin of the name is still up for debate -- there's a pair of easy-to-believe theories -- and the longevity of the name is something students of old Ashley High fought for when that school consolidated with Lowell's Holbrook High to form Ashbrook.
The roots of the nickname date to the 1920s. That's when school spirit sparked two students to write the music for the fight song "On Gastonia" -- 1926 graduates Jane Marshall and Margaret McConnell.
The fight song, which Ashbrook still uses today, labels the team "Green and White," which had been used as the school's nickname in Gazette news reports as early as 1923.
Seven years later, the school's athletic teams were referred to in the Gazette briefly as the "Green and White Terriers" early in the 1930 football season before the team was called the "Green Wave" in reports later that season and throughout the school's history that includes Gastonia, Ashley and Ashbrook high schools.
But why Green Wave?
Some speculate that the lyrics of the fight song that said "Green and White" were simply shortened at various times to "Green Wave." Another theory has it that when Gastonia High was opened in 1925 on the corner of what is now Chester Street and Garrison Boulevard the surrounding underdeveloped greenery looked like "rolling waves of green." The first aerial photograph of Gastonia, which appeared in the Oct. 27, 1924 Gazette, would seem to confirm such a notion.
No matter how it happened, the "Green Wave" name and the sometimes shortened moniker "Greenies" has stuck. Even after the school board nearly decided to put the name to rest along with Ashley High School when it was turned into a junior high in 1970.
When the Gaston County school board first met in February to name Gastonia's new high school that was to be a combination of Ashley and Holbrook high schools, it originally voted to allow the new school to be referred to as "Ashley" and that, naturally, the "Green Wave" nickname would remain.
Predictably, those in the Lowell community were unhappy that their school was being added yet apparently was going to be completely ignored. So, for a brief time in March 1970, the school was to be called "Ashley-Holbrook" and a new nickname would be voted upon. However, in a March 16 meeting, in which independent names such as "New Hope" were discussed for the new school, the school board officially approved the Ashley-Holbrook combination name of "Ashbrook."
Even that didn't sit well initially as the Gazette reported in its March 18, 1970 editions that 400 students from Ashley and 200 from Grier Junior High staged a walkout to dispute the "Ashbrook" name.
Eventually, cooler heads would prevail and the name "Ashbrook" became more accepted, even as the nickname initially voted upon by students -- "Chargers" -- was changed once school started in August 1970.
"We voted on it when I was a ninth-grader at Holbrook," said Charlie Grissom, a local high school referee and game official who graduated from South Point in 1973. "Students voted on three names and `Chargers' was chosen. But the students voted again when school started the next year and it was `Green Wave' again."
Current Ashbrook principal Page Thompson Carver recalls the controversy. She was in junior high the the first year of Ashbrook before eventually graduating from the school in 1974.
"There were some emotional times," said Carver, who has been principal at Ashbrook since 2001. "By the time I got to high school, all the turbulence was over. I lived about a block from Ashbrook, so I was just happy to be close to the new school and to have the same nickname and same fight song I'd grown up with since my father used to take me to the Ashley games."
A few years earlier, crosstown rival Hunter Huss had adopted a name that created alliteration for the school -- "Hunter Huss Huskies."
The school was being named for longtime Gaston County Schools superintendent Hunter Huss. His son, Hunter Huss, Jr., played a role in the naming by having a live Siberian Husky dog delivered from Alaska to be the school's first mascot. For several years thereafter, Huss officials maintained a live animal for its mascot.
Hunter Huss himself played a role in Cherryville's unique "Ironmen" nickname.
According to Howell Stroup, the last surviving member of the 1934 team that gave the school its name, Huss wrote in a county newspaper for schools that "we were 'The Ironmen,'" Stroup said. "And the name's been stuck on the school ever since."
Why were they Ironmen?
Due to player injuries and lack of interest in playing football, Stroup and 10 others played every minute of each of Cherryville High's last three games of the 1934 season, including a 6-2 victory over Morganton for the Western N.C. Activities Association Western Conference title game -- or the only championship ever won in football by Cherryville High.
Cherryville actually wasn't the first local team to have a nickname paying tribute to its scrappiness.
Bessemer City teams, which had been called the "Blue Stockings" in the 1920s and the "Black and White" in the early 1930s, were referred to as the "Scrappy Lads" three games into the 1934 season by The Gazette.
Just like nearby Cherryville, Bessemer City had limited numbers but stout hearts while playing a schedule that included games against larger schools like Kings Mountain, York, S.C., Concord, Gastonia and Charlotte Tech.
Bessemer City briefly stopped being called the "Scrappy Lads" or "Fighting Lads" nickname in 1942, when legendary coach Jack Kiser's team was called the "Golden Hurricane" during his one-year stay there. Once Kiser left, the "Scrappy Lads" nickname returned. But, by 1949, when coach Frank King was hired, Bessemer City adopted the nickname "Yellow Jackets" that has remained with the school ever since.
The school's colors also have changed often, as they were blue and gold in the 1920s, black and white in the 1930s and purple and gold when the name changed to "Yellow Jackets" in 1949.
Bessemer City alumnus Jackson "Ace" Parker (class of 1945) switched to the green and gold color scheme the school still has after consulting with local sporting goods retailers. "Purple was very hard to get," said Parker, the school's winningest all-time football and basketball coach. "So we changed to green and gold."
Colorful stories can be told about the naming of four other local schools -- Belmont, Dallas, Lincolnton and Stanley.
Interestingly, Dallas, Lincolnton, Bessemer City and Gastonia share something in common -- each has called their teams "Yellow Jackets" over the years.
According to Earl Groves, a longtime local youth football coach and 1945 Gastonia High graduate, teams in his era that wore yellow jerseys often were called "Yellow Jackets."
That's exactly how Gastonia came to call its junior varsity teams "Yellow Jackets."
"Gastonia's varsity teams were always the Green Wave," Groves said. "But the backups, or `scrubs' as they were sometimes called, were called `Yellow Jackets' because they wore yellow shirts."
Perhaps that would explain how the other teams got their names, though only Bessemer City and Dallas would hold on to the nickname.
Lincolnton, whose teams were called "Yellow Jackets" in newspaper articles as early as 1925, later came to be known as "Wolves." While there's no documentation available, it appears there's a link to N.C. State, which was nicknamed "Wolfpack." Two of Lincolnton's most prominent athletes of all-time -- eventual pro athletes and local coaches Richard Smith and Dennis Byrd -- went to N.C. State and the school plays the same "wolf howl" after Lincolnton touchdowns that was played at N.C. State games until recently.
Dallas was first called "Yellow Jackets" in 1938 before being referred to as "Golden Tornadoes" or "Golden Tornado" in newspaper accounts for the next seven years before coach Sam Robinson made the "Yellow Jackets" name permanent in 1945.
Belmont and Stanley share similar background and timing of name changes.
Both were originally named after birds common to the area -- Belmont was the Cardinals and Stanley the Bluebirds -- but the perception that birds weren't "tough enough" for football led to switches at both schools in the 1940s.
Belmont changed first when Gerald Cortner became coach in 1946. Assistant coach Ebb Gantt had just returned from World War II, where he'd come in contact with some alumni of Colgate College. Colgate's nickname "Raiders" intrigued Gantt, who then convinced Cortner to adopt the name with a small twist -- "Red Raiders." The name has since been adopted by several Belmont-area teams, including South Point High in 1969 when that school was borne of the consolidation of Belmont and Cramerton high schools.
Stanley changed two years later -- or when Dick Thompson left Mount Holly to become the school's football coach. A local supporter who was a big Duke University fan proposed "Blue Devils" and Thompson agreed. "Blue Devils just sounded more like football, he (coach Thompson) thought," said Louise Thompson, the coach's widow.
Other older schools don't have the background of change or even a story behind their nicknames.
For instance, can you imagine Kings Mountain not being nicknamed "Mountaineers?"
Similarly, Mount Holly has always been the "Hawks," Lowell Holbrook the "Lions" or "Red Lions," Highland the "Rams" and basketball- and baseball-only playing Tryon the "Tigers."
In Lincoln County, the schools that formed West Lincoln were nicknamed "Red Devils" (Love Memorial), "Blue Jays" (North Brook) and "Owls" (Union). Rock Springs, which became East Lincoln, was nicknamed "Warriors."
Cramerton, after briefly being called "Tigers" in the 1920s and early 1930s, adopted "Eagles" as its nickname by 1938.
In recent years, schools have gotten nicknames following student body, school committee or even school board votes.
In 1962, West Lincoln became the "Rebels" -- a name that has stuck even as some have requested a more politically-correct moniker.
Kelly Childers' father Norris was a former North Brook principal and Lincoln County Schools superintendent. Kelly Childers recalls that "the school board decided that name."
Later West Lincoln's principal from 1985 through 1995, Kelly Childers tried to distance the school from the Confederate flag logos that appeared on school buses and vans in 1991 -- or two years before West Lincoln was to join a conference that included Charlotte Catholic.
"That Rebel battle flag has such a connotation that I felt we needed to change," said Childers, whose decision was met with some community resistance. "I just didn't think it would be wise to have a bus or van with that logo going down Independence Boulevard at 11 at night."
Other schools to be named after student body, school committee or school board votes included East Lincoln in 1967 (Mustangs), Gaston Day in 1970 (Spartans) and East Gaston (Warriors) and North Gaston (Wildcats) in 1972.
Finally, in 1998, Forestview became the "Jaguars" and Highland Tech in 2001 adopted the "Rams" nickname used by the formerly all-black high school and subsuquent junior high.