Created:Thursday, February 2, 2017 8:03 p.m.CST
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'We're just as capable as the boys are': Local female athletes have mixed feelings about 'Lady' nickname

By JESSE SEVERSON-jseverson@shawmedia.com
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Matthew Apgar - mapgar@shawmedia.com Sycamore's Emma Stice, from left, Taryn Mathey, and Juliet Mathey celebrate with their trophy after beating DeKalb 40-30 in the First National Challenge girls basketball game on Friday, Jan. 27, 2017 at the Convocation Center in DeKalb. (Matthew Apgar / Daily Chronicle)

When Northern Illinois women's basketball coach Lisa Carlsen was a player from 1988-92, her college had two different names for the basketball teams.

The Northwest Missouri State men's team was nicknamed the Bobcats.

The women's team was nicknamed the Bearkittens.

"At the time, I didn't (care). I absolutely would now," Carlsen said . "I absolutely would think it's the dumbest thing I ever heard now, but at the time, I didn't."

While the name has been long since changed – the Northwest Missouri State women's teams are now nicknamed the Bearcats – there remains a debate about whether it's wrong for schools to have two different mascots for its schools teams.

Most notably, should the girls teams have the prefix "Lady" attached to its nickname?

Carlsen said the prefix gained steam with the rise of the University of Tennessee women's basketball team proudly going as the Lady Vols – short for Volunteers – under legendary coach Pat Summitt.

There are Illinois high schools that have two drastically different gender-based nicknames – the Dixon Dukes and the Dixon Duchesses, for example, played at Genoa-Kingston on Saturday – and some teams in the area that unofficially take on the prefix of Lady for its girls teams.

The Sycamore girls soccer team, which finished third in the Class 2A State tournament last season, would occasionally go by the Lady Spartans on social media.

While many of the high school athletes said the prefix doesn't bother them or they don't really think about it, there are athletes that feel like the different nicknames belittle what the female athletes are trying to accomplish.

"Some people refer to us as the Lady Spartans, but we will never refer to us as that," said Sycamore senior Taryn Mathey, who plays for the girls soccer and basketball teams. "It's a little weird. Girls sports being referred to as the Lady Spartans, I don't know. I feel like it should be the Boy Spartans. I feel like if the boys are the Spartans and the girls are the Lady Spartans, I feel like it shines the light on – these are the Spartans and these are the Lady Spartans.

"I can see how it's a little condescending. I don't think of it much," she said. "When we go to other teams and the announcers are like, 'These are the Lady Barbs,' you're just like, 'They're just the Barbs. We're just the Spartans.' We're just as capable as the boys are."

Julie Galauner, a senior star for the Genoa-Kingston girls basketball team, said the issue doesn't bother her that much, but that she steers away from referring to the team as the Lady Cogs.

"I don't really care too much," she said. "During breaks, I'm the one who says, 'Cogs on three,' I don't really say, 'Lady Cogs on three,' I don't really like saying Lady Cogs that much. It kind of makes it like we're less."

However, Carlsen, who coached at Nebraska-Omaha (then known as the Lady Mavericks) from 1998-2004, said from what she's seen in recruiting in recent years, the prefix of Lady being used with high school girls teams has been diminishing.

"I think the evolution of time, that whole Lady thing just goes away," she said. "I like when people get away from that because I don't think our kids really like to be the Lady Huskies or whatever. I think that's just an evolution of women's athletics, in general, whether it's the high school level or the college level."

For the Genoa-Kingston sports, the official name of the teams is Cogs, but the school's unofficial nickname for the girls sports – including game programs for girls basketball and in press releases and social media – refers to them as the Lady Cogs.

According to Genoa-Kingston athletic director Phil Jerbi, adding the prefix is simply a matter of clarity for the reader and that he hadn't thought of the issue until being asked about it by the Daily Chronicle.

"Some schools, 'Lady' is the official part of the school name," Jerbi said. "Technically, the reason why I use 'Lady Cogs' a lot when I'm on Twitter or Facebook is simply so people know that it's boys or girls when they're reading the post. A lot of the time I'll put 'Varsity girls' or 'Sophomore girls' or 'Varsity boys' but officially, our name is the Cogs.

"We are the Cogs for the boys, we are the Cogs for girls. It's kind of become a nickname, really, than anything else. It's a way to decipher between the two teams."

Multiple athletic directors, including Jerbi, have said that they do not order items that say use the prefix on school-related merchandise and most of the players said their teams will only occasionally refer to themselves with the prefix.

When Carlsen was a high school athlete as Harlan High School in Iowa during the 1980s, the teams had two different nicknames. The boys were the Cyclones and the girls were the Cyclonettes.

Now, with the passing of time, both teams are simply the Cyclones.

"As women, we've always fought for all kinds of equality, so that's one more thing that's different. Why?" she said. "It doesn't need to be different, so why make it different? Some people have a lot stronger opinion on it than I do. I didn't ever have a huge, strong opinion because I didn't think it was that big of a deal, but it is one more thing that is different when it doesn't have to be. I'm in favor of getting rid of it."

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