The Nokomis and Skowhegan boys basketball teams compete during a Feb. 12 game in Skowhegan. The school entered the 2020-2021 with a new name, the River Hawks. But recently, there’s been debate over the spelling of the name, which has been both RiverHawks and River Hawks.  Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

When Skowhegan Area High School decided to retire the Indians nickname, it did everything right in finding a replacement. Skowhegan played the 2019-2020 school year as just Skowhegan, with no nickname, and that brought its own level of hip before the NFL’s Washington Football Team did the same last year. Skowhegan took its time in choosing a new nickname, coming up with an extensive list of choices before sending them out to a vote of the students.

After the vote and school board approval, Skowhegan teams became the River Hawks. A nod to the osprey, a bird of prey that lives along the Kennebec River, where it hunts for fish. Soon after the new nickname was selected, I asked Skowhegan athletic director Jon Christopher if they were going with River Hawks or Riverhawks.

They were the Skowhegan RiverHawks, Christopher replied. A stylized mashup of the word that defied rules of English grammar, but looked cool. For some at Skowhegan Area High School, RiverHawks didn’t look cool. To some staff with an eye on more traditional style and adherence to the rules of grammar, RiverHawks looked like a lime green suit covered in orange polka dots. RiverHawks looked garish.

So Skowhegan River Hawks it is, officially and forever. Until it changes again.

I reached out to a couple teachers in Skowhegan’s English department to ask them about the painful retinal double take caused by RiverHawks, but received no response. I get it. I am fundamentally opposed to “most unique” or “very unique” or “quite unique” or anything resembling a modifier with unique. By definition, unique doesn’t need a modifier. So knock it off. While you’re at it, stop using ironically when you mean coincidentally, too.

I play with words for a living. Words are important to me. I learned the rules of grammar and treat them with respect. I also realize, I learned those rules so I would know when to break them.


There’s no right or wrong way to do this nickname thing. The Augusta RiverHawks were a minor league ice hockey team in Georgia. The Northeastern State RiverHawks are an NCAA Division II school in Oklahoma. The UMass-Lowell River Hawks compete against the University of Maine in Hockey East and America East conference play. The Kennebec River Hawks are the high school ice hockey team for players from Waterville and Winslow.

The University of Louisiana has the Ragin’  — not Raging —Cajuns. Notre Dame has the Fighting — not Fightin’ — Irish. We have Boston Red Sox and Chicago White Sox, and nobody bats an eye at the misspelled American League sock drawer. We had Lewiston Maineiacs in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Memphis Maniax in the original XFL, and it’s a shame neither entered the arena to Michael Sembello’s “Maniac.” There’s a central Maine field hockey club that answers to Maine Majestix.

The Canadian Football League survived for years with Saskatchewan Roughriders and Ottawa Rough Riders. The CFL’s Ottawa franchise now goes by the Ottawa Redblacks, a completely made up word that works because, it’s just a football team, man. Give me the French version, Le Rouge et Noir d’Ottawa. It rolls off the tongue with a panache English can’t provide.

Perhaps Skowhegan should be the Balbuzards, the French word for osprey, or Fleuve Faucons. But not FleuveFaucons, that’s a step too far.

Embrace your new nickname, Skowhegan. River Hawks is fine. RiverHawks was fine, too. The debate about it is added proof we give more time to this sort of thing than it deserves. Like these 600-plus words, for example.

Do me one favor, Skowhegan. Don’t ever use Riverhawx. That’s worse than very unique.



Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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