Doug Wilkins’ first season as head coach of the Mountain Lakes High School football team was a mess. The Lakers finished 2-6, and Wilkins decided he needed to shake things up.
So he changed the nickname.
“We came up with The Herd,” he said. “We wanted something that would be unique, something that was going to symbolize what it would take to be successful.”
It’s an acronym that stands for Hustle, Enthusiasm, Roughness, and Desire and Dedication. Their mascot became a buffalo.
“It’s a pack animal; they rely on each other,” Wilkins said. “The older, stronger bison protect the younger ones.”
HS FOOTBALL: Preview links, photos, videos
This was 1967. At first, the new name ruffled some feathers — the school’s other sports teams remained known as the Lakers — but as Wilkins said, “Like anything else, once you become a success they forget about it.”
Wilkins retired in 2010, after 44 seasons, 328 wins and eight sectional championships. The Herd remain strong; they will face Lincoln in the North 2 Group II final Dec. 7. During their semifinal romp of Ridgefield Park, the buffalo roamed the home sideline.
“It just kind of stuck,” Wilkins said.
What’s in a nickname? Heading into Thanksgiving, with its emphasis on tradition and history, Gannett New Jersey explored the origins of some of the more colorful ones.
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Some were simply voted on by a school’s inaugural student body. Others own interesting backstories. A few remain a mystery.
Here’s what we found.
Lakewood Piners: A lot of folks assume “Piners” is a reference to the Pine Barrens. It’s not. Lakewood lies a bit northeast of the Pinelands National Reserve. However, there’s sort of a link.
“It’s got to do with the fact that we almost butt up to Rockefeller (Ocean County) park,” longtime athletic director John Craddox said. “We have the biggest pine trees you’ve ever seen. Our mascot is a lumberjack.”
Asbury Park Bishops: When manufacturer James Bradley, a Methodist, founded the town in 1871, he named it after late Bishop Francis Asbury, one of the first Methodist bishops in the U.S.
Red Bank Catholic Caseys: Named after Monsignor Joseph Casey, a former World War I Navy chaplain who later became a parish priest and organized Red Bank Catholic’s athletic department. It was one of the first schools to hire a full-scale coaching staff.
St. John Vianney Lancers: Was voted on by the inaugural class in 1969. Mascot is a knight. Why not go with the more common Knights?
“Remember this was in 1969,” Sister Bernadette Larson wrote in an email. “The kids wanted something different.”
Mater Dei Seraphs: The six-winged angel won a vote in 1964-65. Or so it goes. Legend persists that the priest and nuns who ran the school voted more than once.
Donovan Catholic Griffins: Half-eagle, half-lion, the mythological griffin beat out Blue Devils in a student vote in 1962. The finalists were presented by the Dominican sisters who taught there.
“It symbolizes vigilance, swiftness, loyalty and strength,” said 1973 graduate Madeline Kinloch. “In the Christian tradition, the griffin suggests Christ’s twofold nature — the eagle is his divinity and the lion is his humanity.”
Point Pleasant Beach Garnet Gulls: Gulls are an obvious reference to the beach, but why not the full Seagulls or another beach creature? And why Garnet? The details could not be resolved as of press time.
Neptune Scarlet Fliers: According to the website halcyon.com: The moniker “Scarlet Flyers” was coined in the late 1920’s by John Ogle. Ogle reported that the basketball team came out on the court wearing all red and was always the fastest team on the court. The nickname quickly caught on and was used to describe all the Neptune High School sports teams. “Flyers” morphed into the more modern spelling “Fliers” over the years.
Greater Middlesex Conference
New Brunswick Zebras: Dating back to the 1880s, the school’s athletes wore blue and white stripes in the fashion of the day. But blue and white looked like black and white in newsprint, and in 1923, the student newspaper became known as the Zebra. Its first documented use in reference to the school’s sports teams is found in a 1927 newspaper article about a basketball game.
Carteret Ramblers: “From what I’ve been told, when we began a football team we did not have a stadium, so we had to ‘ramble’ to other stadiums to play,” athletic director Grace Cunha said.
Woodbridge Barrons: Named after a prominent family from the early days of the town. The mascot dons a tux, top hat and cane to signify wealth and influence.
Highland Park Owls: Longtime football coach Joe Policastro, now retired, said it was chosen by the students in 1936 with urging from principal Alger Maynard. “Principal Maynard wanted a name that would express scholastics and athletics,” Policastro wrote in an email. “Students chose the wise old owl.”
South Amboy Guvs: Formerly known as the Hoffman Guvs, so named because the school was built during the tenure of New Jersey governor Harold Hoffman (1935-38). When the school changed names, it kept the nickname.
Dunellen Destroyers: A World War II reference. The original logo contained a battleship.
Skyland Conference/Union County
North Plainfield Canucks: Canuck is a slang term for Canadian. Two stories have circulated through the years about how it wound up affixed to North Plainfield. First, because the town lies north of Plainfield, there was a Canada-America connotation. Second, there were supposedly Canadian woodsmen among the early settlers. The mascot and logo depict a lumberjack.
Delaware Valley Terriers: Former football coach and administrator Tap Webb, after whom the school’s gridiron is named, used to bring his terrier dog around the field. It became the mascot.
Hillsborough Raiders: Nothing special in the nickname itself, but it’s worth noting that the mascot is a “minuteman” raider, not the typical pirate. Why? Legend has it that during the Revolutionary War, the area was home to wily colonists who would sell goods to the British troops by day and steal them back via nighttime raids.
Rutgers Prep Argonauts: The student-newspaper was founded in 1889 as “The Argo,” a mythological reference to the ship Jason and his Argonauts sailed in their virtuous search for the golden fleece. The nickname flowed from the newspaper.
Ridge Red Devils: Why do these Red Devils wear green? Because a local “Red Devil” hardware company sponsored the sports teams when the school opened in 1961, but wearing red was out of the question. That was (and still is) the color of crosstown rival Bernards.
Plainfield Cardinals: Legendary football coach Hub Stine, for whom the school’s gridiron is named, was a huge fan of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball franchise. He adopted the same logo and it remains on Plainfield’s helmets.
Roxbury Gaels: “So the story goes: In 1932 there were three Reillys on the football team — Vincent, John and Fran, and another Irishman Ed “Hurricane” Higgins,” athletic director Stu Mason wrote in an email. “This prompted Daily Record sports writer, the late Bill Horner, to say, ‘See those Irishmen run’ and to nickname the team the Gaels.”
He added, “The nickname Gaels was taken from the Gaelic tribes in Ireland who were always ready to take on a tough opponent. The label was also a tribute to Roxbury’s fine coach of that era, Irishman Pat Clemans.”
Madison Dodgers: “The estate of which the high school property was a part was named ‘Florham’ and belonged to the Twombleys,” athletic director Sean Dowling wrote in an email. “The German shepherd on the crest was a tribute to Geraldine Dodge, who loved dogs and was very involved in that world and was instrumental in building Madison into the town it is now.”
He added, “Dodger just comes from the name Dodge, I’m pretty sure that the idea that there was a dog with that name is urban legend. Everyone just tends to mix all the history into one pot.”
Mount Olive Maurauders: The mascot is a Pirate. But why Marauders? Possibly the result of a vote when the school opened in 1972, but no one could confirm that.
Like many school nicknames, a little mystery is part of the charm.
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Staff writer Jerry Carino: firstname.lastname@example.org