What’s in a name – Red and Green, Hilltops/Hilltoppers and Shamrocks, Part II

Bruce Yarnall

Older readers will remember the term “and now you know the rest of the story” the phrase Chicago-based radio commentator Paul Harvey would use to close out his yarn about some event or person that he chose to profile that week.

Well, not long after posting the first piece on the names for Barnesville sports teams, Pat Welsh Reischman sent a note indicating her father John M. “Jack” Welsh (1916-1987) was responsible for the nickname Shamrocks. Pat said Jean Davies wrote about it in her column Jeanalities.

For younger readers who are unfamiliar with Jack Welsh, he was a member of the large Irish family headed by immigrant Michael Welsh who settled in Barnesville in 1863. Michael and all seven of his sons worked for the B & O Railroad.

Jack Welsh was a WWII Army vet, a longtime employee of the Barnesville Post Office, and later served as clerk-treasurer for the Barnesville Board of Education. His children, twins Michael, high school English teacher, and Patricia, elementary secretary, followed their father into the education field. During his years at the Post Office, Jack also served on the school board and was very active in the Assumption Catholic Church and Barnesville Elks Lodge.

Indeed, Jean did record this history in the Barnesville Enterprise. A labored search through my extensive microfilm copy files reveals a St. Patrick’s Day column of March 17, 2010 that provides our “rest of the story”.

Davies wrote that a recent letter to the editor by Nancy Brooks posed the question “when Barnesville athletes became known as Shamrocks. We had always answered this with the late Bill Cowgill’s explanation which appeared in the Enterprise some time ago,” she said.

“He (Cowgill) said it was during Coach J. Floyd Thomas’ tenure in the 1930s,” Davies recounted. “He said that Thomas was an avid Notre Dame fan, along with the family of one of his players, Jack Welsh.”      

According to Jack’s son, Mike, the Welshes and Thomas wanted to call the BHS athletes something pertaining to the Notre Dame Irish. Thinking it wouldn’t be good to call BHS athletes the Irish, they decided on Shamrocks.

Thomas was football coach for almost a decade closing out his Barnesville career with the fall 1934 season. Welsh graduated in 1934, so it is most likely his senior year during the 1933 football campaign the two came up with the name Shamrocks. 

That said, as we noted before, the name was slow to catch on taking another decade before the name Shamrock triumphed the Red and Green or Hilltop/Hilltoppers names.  

Jean’s column also shed light on the colors – red and green that the early teams used.  “In 1919 the first Senrab was published, and it reported only on the basketball team. It may have described the beginning of red and green school colors if you can accept maroon as a red color.”

The description in the yearbook reads:

The boys were presented with jerseys and socks out of the funds in the middle of the season. Then, as a reward of faithful endeavor, a Spalding sweater was purchased for each of the six men. These garments are maroon with a green armband and a green “B”.

And, finally on to the now favored ‘Rocks name.  I knew it went back a couple of decades or more. I found this proved by the November 11, 1992 front-page photo and header by Bill Davies proclaiming “Perfect ‘Rocks Enjoyed Victory Parade” after the Shamrock’s 12-6 win over rival Union Local to cap a 10-0 season.  One youngster on the float was holding up a handmade sign “Rocks will kick butt!”.

A call to Jean reveals her husband, Bill, longtime Enterprise editor, would use the name ‘Rocks to help shorten headlines but always referred to the team as Shamrocks in copy. Additional file checking confirmed this.    

On further reflection, Jean said she believed the nickname was first used during the 1980s when Bill Dowler was coach. That gives the Shamrocks name a run of almost 90 years and the shortened ‘Rocks almost 40 years of common use.