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Some mascot names are downright Criminal

We don't mean to sling derogatory daggers, but there is a high school in Yuma, Ariz., whose athletes are a bunch of hardened criminals. And that's a bit of an understatement. In deference to proper capitalization, they are Criminals, comprising -...

Louie St. George III
Louie St. George III is a News Tribune sports reporter. Reach him at lstgeorge@duluthnews.com.

We don't mean to sling derogatory daggers, but there is a high school in Yuma, Ariz., whose athletes are a bunch of hardened criminals.

And that's a bit of an understatement. In deference to proper capitalization, they are Criminals, comprising -- presumably -- the seedy underbelly of high school sports in America's sunny southwest.

Slanderous? Hardly.

The young lads from Yuma, unlike so many law-abiding athletes across the country, strive to be Criminals. Heck, the school's wrestling team features black-and-white striped uniforms. The school store is called the Cell Block.

Miscreants, all of 'em.

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Now is probably a good time to point out that the official mascot of Yuma High School is a Criminal.

The ongoing nickname saga involving the NFL team in Washington got us thinking: With so many high school teams out there, a few have to be riding dead-center on the Politically Correct Fence. Indeed, there are. After all, not every team can be the Eagles or Tigers (the most popular prep mascot, if memory serves).

The story of the Criminals goes thusly: In 1910, infant Yuma High School moved into the abandoned Yuma Territorial Prison until a new school was built in 1913. That year, Yuma's football team traveled to Phoenix and beat the "Coyotes," who, in defeat, labeled their opponent "criminals." The nickname stuck. It became official in 1917, according to the school's website, which boldly proclaims "Proud home of the Criminals."

Talk about stealing a victory.

Which the Criminals undoubtedly will attempt if ever they play the Millionaires of Williamsport High School (Pa.) or the Laurel Hill (Fla.) Hoboes. Ditto for the Orphans and Annies of Centralia High School in Illinois. Unless, of course, the Lexington (Neb.) Minutemen or Minutemaids have anything to say about it.

If the Minutemaids sound utterly unintimidating, consider Minnesota's very own Blooming Prairie Awesome Blossoms, whose mascot is some sort of naked and confused flower. Or, better yet, the Dots, who fittingly belong to Poca High School in Poca, W.Va.

Yes, the Poca Dots.

This mascot madness borders on the absurd -- we're looking at you, Fightin' Planets of Mars High School, again in Pennsylvania.

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Locally, most nicknames are of the conventional variety, paying homage to lumberjacks and hawks, panthers and Spartans. Exceptions can be found, most notably the Eskomos of Esko, and at Duluth Denfeld, where the Hunters got their name from long-ago coach Walt Hunting. When the ol' tactician led his teams into battle, the story goes, fans bellowed "Here comes Hunting's Hunters."

Politically correct, it is not.

Then again, neither are the Midgets of Butternut High School (Wis.), who'd be wise to forge an alliance with the Teutopolis Wooden Shoes (Ill.).

Looking for the best nickname? ESPN, in 1986, and Sports Illustrated, in 2009, settled upon the Cairo (Ga.) Syrupmakers, which we think was borderline criminal (not "Criminal") considering the Atom Smashers (Johnson High School in Savannah, Ga.) and the Galloping Ghosts (Kaukauna High School in Wisconsin) -- to say nothing of the Hoopeston Area Cornjerkers (Ill.).

Headline writers the world over would give their red pen for a matchup between the Astoria (Ore.) Fighting Fishermen and the Community School (Idaho) Cutthroat Trout ... who have had it up to about herewith the Avon Old Farms (Conn.) Winged Beavers.

We'd be remiss if we didn't mention the Hot Dogs, who feature a ferocious wiener dog as their mascot. The nickname is made all the better given the fact that the Hot Dogs belong to Frankfort High School (Ind.), meaning the school's students have to, with a straight face, cheer for the Frankfort Hot Dogs.

It could be worse. Just ask fans of the Goldbugs (Alva, Okla.) or Beetdiggers (Jordan High School in Sandy, Utah).

At Stuyvesant High School in New York City, nearly every team goes by a different name. Football and boys lacrosse use Peglegs. The boys bowling team is the Hookers, while the girls squad is the Pinheads. Others: Hitmen (baseball), Smokin' Aces (boys tennis), Untouchables (fencing) and Ballers (boys soccer).

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Somewhere, the Nimrods of Watersmeet, Mich., can only shake their heads.

Louie St. George III is a sports writer at the News Tribune. Reach him at lstgeorge@duluthnews.com .

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