RICK CLEVELAND: Lions and Tigers and Tartars and Urchins, oh my!

By Rick Cleveland


JACKSON – Taylorsville defeated East Union last week for the State Class 2A high school baseball title, but there’s much more to it than that.
Indeed, there’s this: The Tartars defeated the Urchins. You read that right: Taylorsville is the Tartars and East Union is the Urchins.
You gotta love that. In a Mississippi high school sports world overpopulated with Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh my, the Tartars beat the Urchins.
So what is a Tartar, you ask? Something that causes tooth decay? Not in Taylorsville, where they grow nutritious vegetables and fruits that help produce strong bones and teeth. A Taylorsville Tartar is named after a warrior – a 13th-century Mongolian warrior. Think Genghis Khan. No doubt, Coach Khan would be pleased to learn some 21st century baseball champions from Smith County, Mississippi, are named for his fierce soldiers. He probably wonders why they don’t throw more bean balls and use their bats on noggins.
Equally unique are the East Union Urchins, once known as the East Union Epic Urchins, but shortened to Urchins these days. Look up first reference for urchin in the dictionary you find: “A playful or mischievous youngster; a scamp.” Some of the East Union Urchins might have been just that at one time; you’d have to ask their parents.
Once they were epic
But that is not what they are now. These Urchins refer to sea creatures. Indeed, their mascot is a seahorse, which is unique among Mississippi mascots, but not really an urchin. A real sea urchin is a small, globular, prickly creature that looks nothing like a seahorse. But why quibble? You have to love the East Union Urchins, and wonder they aren’t Epic any more. The girls teams at East Union? The Urchinettes, of course.
You should know that all this comes from a former Hattiesburg Tiger, who was blown away all too often by Laurel’s Golden Tornado and sunk all too often by Gulfport’s Commodores. Back then, we usually handled the Picayune Maroon Tide, but had some real cat fights with Meridian’s Wildcats.
As an all-too-common Tiger, I learned early to appreciate unique sports team nicknames. My favorite of all-time: The St. Stanislaus Rock-a-Chaws. You gotta love a Rock-a-Chaw even before you learn what it is. The St. Stanislaus Rock-a-Chaws, located in Bay St. Louis just across Beach Road from the Gulf of Mexico, have successfully competed in many sports for decades. Heisman Trophy winner Doc Blanchard once played there.
But, still, you ask, Rock-a-Chaw? The word comes from a Choctaw word meaning devil grass. A rock-a-chaw is a prickly burr that grows prolifically in the sandy soil along the Gulf Coast. Step on one bare-footed and you will know it – and you will not say “Rock-a-Chaw!”
The nickname goes all the way back to 1916, when Brother Macarius Pierce, a principal with an obvious sense of humor and a way with words, came up with the name. He also wrote an ode to his Rock-a-Chaws, part of which follows:
“What are they? Tis my task to tell: They’ve got the meanness of devils from hell. They’re the most consistent, persistent pest, that puts a man’s patience to the test. They lie in wait with fiendish glee, for the innocent hand or foot or knee. And they stick with an affection denying all laws. The rancorous, cantankerous Rock-a-Chaws!”
Top that.
Rick Cleveland (rcleveland@msfame.com) is the executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum. He blogs at msfame.com.