Illinois as a mascot mecca for Orphans and fantastic agricultural pasttimes alike

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally
The Centralia Orphans: Among the nation's most unique and best mascots — USA Today
The Centralia Orphans: Among the nation's most unique and best mascots — USA Today

Who would have thought that the epicenter of bizarre mascots would be in Chicago’s home state … but definitely not in Chicago itself?

As it turns out, the Land of Lincoln is also the land of truly strange prep mascots. Where else can you find Orphans, Appleknockers and Cornjerkers … and that’s just a start. In some of the most heated voting hosted by USA Today in the newspaper’s entire contest, Illinois’ best mascot was determined to be the Centralia (Il.) High Orphans.

There’s no wonder that the Orphans are considered the best of Illinois, and some of the best of the entire nation. The genesis of the teams’ nickname is reportedly traced back to a Chicago sportswriter before the Great Depression, who reportedly wrote that “they looked like a bunch of orphans but they sure could play basketball.” Add to that teams that robed up in uniforms that were literally so run down that they looked like rags during the Depression, and the Orphans nickname stuck.


Yet the best part of the Orphans nickname may be a tweak that was introduced when the school began sanctioning girls sports after 1970. While there is no concrete reason why those teams couldn’t have competed as Orphans, too, the school thought one better: They could be the Orphan Annies.

How poetic. The Orphans and Orphan Annies are still among the state and nation’s most beloved mascots, and who could blame them. After all, it’s hard not to love an orphan, no matter their origin.

Other Great Illinois Mascots of Note:

Where to start. Why not with the Cobden (Il.) Hih Appleknockers? Incredibly, the Appleknockers were also christened by a local sportswriter, who was so incredulous that the school’s basketball team had made the state tournament he wrote, “who ever heard of such a bunch of Appleknockers winning such a thing?” Of course, the apple orchards in the area may have played a role in the nickname’s inspiration, with workers routinely knocking fruit from the trees.

Only in Illinois could the Appleknockers be the second best mascot — Rustle Hill Winery
Only in Illinois could the Appleknockers be the second best mascot — Rustle Hill Winery

If Appleknockers are unique, Cornjerkers are fantastical. According to USA Today, Cornjerkers were laborers that pulled or jerked the ears of corn from the stock before modern machines were built to do it. Naturally, the rise of mechanized farming made the profession obsolete, but not before Hoopeston (Il.) Area High took on the nickname as its own. Good on them for it.

One might assume that the Teutopolis (Il.) High Wooden Shoes got their nickname as a nod to Dutch heritage, but one would be wrong. Instead, the school took on the fabulous moniker to honor a local shoemaker who presented the school’s coach, J.H. Griffin, with a pair of wooden shoes. The coach painted them with school colors and used them for homecoming trophies in the years ahead, completing the mascot genesis cycle of sorts.

And not to be left out are the Polo (Il.) High Marcos. Yes, the Polo Marcos. No bonus points for guessing which explorer the school named its teams after.

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