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What South Dakota schools lack in numbers, they make up ingenuity - at least when it comes to school nicknames.

Having gone to high school in the Black Hills Conference, you got a sampling of such originality with teams such as the Golddiggers and the Irrigators. But the great nicknames don't stop at the hills borders.

One of my favorite ongoing conversations with veteran sports reporter Mike Besso is the great names of South Dakota high schools past and present. He can tick them off with alarming regularity, doing a localized version of the ESPN's "The Schwab."

As for me, I'm not so good at remembering all the ins and outs (how many Cavaliers are there? and I thought Beresford was the Bulldogs), but I do know my best.

A couple of area schools that get some national notoriety for their nicknames are Rapid City Central and Pine Ridge. Both schools took their names from someobody else's name. In Rapid City's case, it was former Rapid City coach E.N. Cobb, which got elongated into Cobblers (I suspect so that they could have some hope at creating a mascot other than a guy in a baseball cap with a whistle in his mouth).

In Pine Ridge's case, the school honors Native American Jim Thorpe, perhaps the greatest athlete in American history who won the pentathlon and decathlon in the 1912 Olympic games and went on to play professional baseball and professional football.

Still, there are plenty of others from which to choose, and here are five of my favorites.

There is at least one other high school in the United States (in Munday, Texas) with the same nickname as Edgemont. But for the railtown on the far western expanse of South Dakota, it's an idyllic name.

Of course, my memories hearken back to 1980 and playing against Edgemont in junior high (not middle school, mind you) basketball at the old Deadwood Armory (now the Pavilion and Chamber of Commerce).

Coming from an area where ski areas outnumbered active rail lines 2 to 1, our best guess was that their nickname the Moguls had something to do with slalom skiing. Like I say, we were in junior high. Nobody said we were that bright. We though Styx were better than the Beatles. Get the idea?

It isn't what you think; it's much better than that.

The Black Hills school has made a name for itself over the years for its dominant wrestling program, but one has to wonder if their toughness comes from the fact that for many years, their conference flag's lone mascot image was a shovel. It's kinda like Johnny Cash's "Boy Named Sue."

But the Scooper nickname isn't what you think. The town came to be as a service industry to nearby Fort Meade. When the soldiers would get paid, the local businessmen's practice of "scooping" their hard-earned rewards gave Sturgis the nickname as the Scoop Town.

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About 150 people live in Monroe today. I don't know how many lived in the town back before it merged with nearby Marion, back when it had its own high school.

Regardless, I got a tour of the old high school about 22 years ago by one of the greatest athletes to come out of Monroe in the mid 1980s, the estimable Jeff Vanderwoude. (We played together for a couple of years at Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell.)

I can barely remember the school, but I remember its nickname: the Monoroe Wooden Shoe Canaries. Fear inspiring, isn't it?

Unfortunately for Woody, he was forced to become a member of the Marion Bears, one of three South Dakota schools to have the relatively common mascot name. One of the others was the team I played on in junior high, the Deadwood Bears. Those Bears had taken their name from the defunct high school that consolidated with Lead High School in the early 1970s.

And as for the other school that carries the Bears mascot …

Polo Bears

It's vitually impossible to make such names as Tigers, Lions, Bears, Eagles or other intimidating or predatory animal seem like an original choice for your school. Unless, of course, you attended the now dormant Polo High School.

They were the Polo Bears. Get it? Say it real fast once and twice, and you will. I only hope that their school colors were white and whiter white.

Gregory Girl-illas

One of my favorite memories of my years worked as a sports reporter was covering the Prospector Bowl games up at Deadwood's Ferguson Field, and my favorite game was an overtime classic between Lead and Gregory.

Lead ended up winning the game on a botched extra point attempt by a very good Gregory team, but was impressive was the Gregory fans and their enormous mascot they had pulled halfway across the state to the game.

The enormous, statuesque Gregory Gorilla was placed on a flatbed truck at the far side of the field and was an imposing figure even on Lead's home field in Deadwood.

And while Gregory is the only school I know of with the Gorilla mascot in South Dakota, it isn't entirely unique nationwide. However, the name of their girls' basketball team - at least back in the days when I was a sports stringer for the Mitchell Daily Republic back in the mid 1980s - was a true classic.

They were the Gregory Girl-illas. Heck, I couldn't even make that up if I tried.

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