Your team is the what? The story behind two unique high school nicknames

Published: Aug. 16, 2022 at 2:03 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - In sports, mascots are more than a nickname.

They’re an identity; a rallying cry; a connection point.

But for a couple of teams in southeast Georgia, they are even more than that.

Savannah’s Sol C. Johnson High School and Brunswick’s Glynn Academy are holders of two of the most unique mascots in the country. Johnson’s sports teams are the Atom Smashers, while Glynn’s teams are the Red Terrors. Both schools can lay claim to being the only Atom Smashers or Red Terrors in the state.

But where did those names come from?

For the Atom Smashers, the story is pretty simple. To get that story, I turned to Frank Ellis, Jr. Ellis is a Class of 1962 graduate of Johnson High, which he says make him “an original Atom Smasher.”

Johnson High School was founded in 1959 as a laboratory school to Savannah State. That scientific connection, as well as the time period, played into the origin of the Atom Smasher.

Listen to Ellis explain where the nickname came from.

Johnson High School alum Frank Ellis, Jr. recalls the story behind the school's Atom Smashers nickname.

Ellis says the novelty of the choice helped the students of Johnson latch on to Atom Smasher moniker. But he also remembers it being the subject of some Savannah rivalry ribbing at first. That only led to more pride in being Smashers.

“We had the Bulldogs at Beach High School. We had the Wolverines at Tompkins High. We had the Jackets at Savannah High, Warriors at Jenkins High. Everybody was something, but we were the Atom Smashers. So initially, they wanted to tease us about it. But that was because they didn’t understand it,” Ellis says. “The kids just rallied behind it, and we have a great sense of pride in being Atom Smashers. A lot of people don’t understand it. But to smash an atom, man that’s power.”

Not far south, there is a similar sense of pride in being unique.

Glynn Academy has long been force on the football fields of Georgia, established as one of the winningest programs in the state.

There is a certain pride that comes from being a Red Terror.

But what is a Red Terror? That depends on who you ask.

According to the school website, the mascot was created in 1918 by a student named Cormack McGarvey. The school says “McGarvey chose the name from the phrase Red Terror that was used to describe the political and violent campaigns of the communist movements, potentially the scariest concept to Americans at that time.”

But others have differing opinions on where the name comes from, like Class of 1968 graduate of Glynn Academy. Scarboro has attended Glynn Academy football games since he was 8 years old, and believes the name goes all the way back to the colonization of Georgia.

Here’s Scarboro’s explanation on the inspiration of the Red Terror nickname.

Glynn Academy alum Ron Scarboro believes the school's mascot takes inspiration from the colonization of Georgia.

While the origin of the name may be disputed, there is no argument that not only is the name one of the most unique, it’s one of the fiercest sounding mascots in all of sports.

“It just has a good ring to it,” Scarboro says. “Red Terrors. Red Terrors. I love that. I still do.”

There are a lot of high schools that play football in Georgia, which leads to a lot of similarities in mascots.

Just in the Georgia High School Association alone, there are 27 schools with Bulldog mascots. There are 23 with Tiger nicknames, as well as 20 Eagles, 20 Panthers, and 16 Wildcats.

So what makes the Terrors and Smashers special makes them stand out.

“It just brings a lot of color to the game when you have a good nickname,” says Todd Holcomb of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Besides covering high school football for the AJC, Holcomb is a historian of the game in Georgia.

In his research, he’s discovered some other mascots of the past that were a little different.

“Sandersville had a team called the Satans. That’s a pretty mean and imposing nickname there,” Holcomb says. “There was a team called the Cornelia Appleknockers up in northeast Georgia.”

With the Satans and the Appleknockers no longer around these days, the Atom Smashers and Red Terrors must carry the torch of uniqueness in Georgia. As they do, those at Johnson and Glynn will take pride in being different.

“I’ve looked far and wide and that’s part of the beauty of it. We know we’re unique,” says Scarboro. “There’s a lot of other nicknames out there. But none of them have the uniqueness of Red Terror.”

“We’re one of a kind. An original. And no one has seen fit to duplicate it, because you can’t,” says Ellis. “We broke the mold. And it’s just been such a blessing to be considered one of a kind.”

Glynn Academy opens the 2022 season on Aug. 19 at Statesboro. Johnson will also be on the road, opening Aug. 19 at McIntosh Co. Academy.

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