It’s a big deal when you’re growing up to be proud of your high school’s nickname. East Hampton calls itself the Bonackers. Southampton calls itself the Mariners. Westhampton Beach calls itself the Hurricanes. I think that of the three, the Mariner’s nickname is the most appropriate for the 21st century. It’s bland but descriptive. It’s non-threatening. (Threatening is out.) It’s a lot of what goes on in Southampton, with people on the water.
East Hampton has a nickname that probably has little meaning to outsiders. There is a section of East Hampton where the Bonackers live. Bonackers are the names that were given to the early settlers. If you can trace your ancestors back to 1639 and you’re from East Hampton you’re a bonacker.
Go Bonackers, Go.
Westhampton Beach’s nickname is also descriptive but not in a good way. It might have been appropriate to the 20th century when it was “sock em rock em, smash em” everywhere in those old-fashioned fight songs. Hit em with a hurricane. But then there was the hurricane itself. Everyone knows which one it was. It was the Hurricane of ’38, considered by many to have been the worst natural disaster in the Northeast in the first half of the 20th century. It hit Westhampton Beach head on. Ouch.
Then there’s the Bridgehampton High School Killer Bees. In the last 30 years, the Killer Bees have won eight state championships in Basketball. This year, they won the County, but got no farther. Who knows. A little bug spray and they get all confused.
There is no Sag Harbor High School. But there is. The high school in Sag Harbor is Pierson High School, named after Mr. Pierson, bless his soul, whoever he might have been. And their nickname is, quite appropriately, the Whalers. Sag Harbor was one of the four great ports in America from which the captains used to go out in giant whaleboats to hunt whales in the ocean. They ran out of whales around 1845, but the tradition continues at the High School. Go Whalers Go.
Last week though, at a school board meeting, the name Whalers became the topic of conversation. It wasn’t about jettisoning the Whalers name. It was about deciding on a specific whale, although there is what appears to be a wood carving of a very specific whale over the doorway of the gymnasium that everybody who has ever gone to Pierson thinks is it. But this whale is just one of several whales on display. The baseball team, for example, might have a patch on their chests of a whale with a baseball bat. In other sports it could be a whale dancing, or it could be a white whale (a la Moby Dick) or a regular grey whale. It also could be a killer whale on the wrestling team or a whale holding a flipper up for the spelling bee team.
It’s time to get the whale organized into a specific whale that immediately brings to mind the local high school over and over again.
Some people at the meeting did put in a good word for the wooden whale over the entryway. A woman named Mary Ann Miller, who is on the board, said that was fine with her but a vote should be taken on it to make it official.
She pointed out that they’re losing fundraising opportunities. She meant that the school could make money by having the Pierson whale on t-shirts or sweatshirts or baseball caps as long as it was the same whale. Certainly it makes a lot of sense.
Nobody did report on the fact at this meeting that the actual nickname for Pierson High School is Whalers, not Whale. Indeed, at a lacrosse game, you’d be a laughing stock if you shouted “Go Whales, Go.” Nobody wants to root for a team that has to wiggle and waddle up and down a field.
So the issue really is, although its been all swept aside here, that what you need to make a patch out of is an actual whaler, and the issue might be with a beard or without a beard and with suspenders or without suspenders. But we’ll leave that one go. It’s just a technicality. So it’s a whale.
Not much was decided at this meeting about the whale or whalers. A student attending the meeting, Amanda Gleeson, thought the board ought to choose several possibilities and then leave it up to the students to decide in a student vote. We live in a democracy after all.
Some day, there will be an official patch. It will be over the Village Hall. It will be on the front of the school. It will be on all the advertising and signage. It will be on t-shirts and bumper stickers. The official Sag Harbor Whale.
Just out of curiosity, by the way, I went online to look up some of the stranger nicknames given to American High Schools. There might be more important uses for the Internet than this, but at the moment, I can’t think of any. Here are some of my favorites. Imagine having to grow up lugging these names around.
The Archbishop Weber “Red Horde.”
The Black Earth High School “Earthmen.”
The Bloomington Academy “Immortals.”
The Buffalo Seminary “Sirens.”
The Carnegie High School “Little Tartans.”
Ceredo-Kenova High School “Wonders.”
The Connellsville (PA) “Cokers.”
The DuPont High School “Coalcrackers.”
The Fort Branch High School “Twigs.”
The Gilbertson High School “Ducktowners.”
The Granite Falls “Kilowatts.”
The Henrietta High School “Fighting Hens.”
The Hurst-Bush High School “Hummers.”
The Jefferson High School (GA) “Mud Turtles.”
The Kingswood High School “Kangaroos.”
The Magnolia High School (WV) “Blue Blizzards.”
The Mauch Chunk Catholic “Chunkers.”
The Monmouth High School “Zippers.”
The Nashville (GA) “Swampers.”
Our Lady Star of the Sea “Tunas”
The Nyack (NY) “Fighting Parsons.”
The Puget Sound (MI) “Christian Anchormen”
The St. Ignatius “Grey Fog.”
The Wabash Valley High School “Viscounts.”
The Washington High School “Sun Dodgers.”
Who decides on these names, anyway? It’s the adults. By the way, all of these schools listed above have either closed or merged into larger school districts.
Go Wharfs, Go.