Sports pages of old are truly 'ette-ifying'
I read that the Coalregionettes were playing the Riverettes in the title tilt for a local cage loop - or something like that.
I didn't just read that today. It was neigh on to 30 or 40 years ago. It made perfect sense at the time, for such was the accepted lingo of sports writers.
By way of differentiation, there were "real" sports writers who actually understood and cared about what was happening on a football field, baseball field or basketball court. They did most of the heavy lifting in dishing up sports news to local fans who were intensely interested in and passionate about their favorite teams.
But then there was also a cadre of mostly literate, generally helpful, but sometimes sports rules-challenged male newsroom employees and stringers who helped the real sports guys pick up the slack on busy nights. It was a good thing these secondary sports scribes bought into the sometimes trite, but always safe, reportorial lingo of the time. Otherwise, they might have dangerously scaled inappropriate heights of erudition, as in, for example, "The honor of our town hangs in the balance as the incomparable and pulchritudinous Coalregionettes, fearsome lady warriors of true anthracite tradition, battle a distaff scholastic team from a nearby river community for the laurel-laden and much coveted crown signifying regional feminine basketball supremacy."
For sports writers, the 1970s became the "Ettes Decade." After spending the better part of their careers covering mostly boys interscholastic sports, the proliferation of girls teams no doubt presented something of a quandary. It wasn't that sports editors were opposed to the existence of girls teams or that they didn't want to give them their due. Far from it. The question was: How do you write about girls teams without confusing readers into thinking you were still writing about boys teams?
Transformation of traditional school nickmames into such appellations as "Eaglettes," "Raiderettes," "Tigerettes," "Indianettes" and "Tornadoettes," was awkward and, in hindsight, a bit insulting. The suffix "ette" implied, perhaps without meaning to, that the team was a miniaturized or secondary version of what might be considered the main attraction - the boys teams. But don't blame the sports writers; such were the names actively sanctioned by or at least acquiesced in, by the schools' athletic departments.
Later, it became de rigueur to refer to girls sports teams as the Lady Indians and the Lady Tornadoes. There was no question about which gender was represented on the teams, and there was the added compliment of affirming that these young women athletes were indeed "ladies." However, cynics might have well asked (maybe some did) - why not refer to the boys teams as the "Gentlemen Red Raiders" and the "Gentlemen Tigers"?
In the end, Tigers are Tigers and Tornadoes are Tornadoes, regardless of the gender of the players, and the school nicknames are now generally applied equally to all school teams. Here at The News-Item, and certainly in other publications, headers in reversed type labeled "Girls Basketball" or "Boys Basketball" are put at the top of one of the columns of text as a convenience to readers. This is as it should have been all along.
The explosion of "Ettes" wasn't the only quirk on sports pages of yore. In fact, the pages were replete with what can now only be considered as quaint journalist anachronisms. Numerical shorthand was common. The Tornado "11" naturally referred to the Mount Carmel Area football team; Lourdes "5" was that school's basketball team, and the Indian 9, the Shamokin Area baseball team. Sometimes, probably depending on no more than whim or personal preference, these numbers were written out and even pluralized, as in "Area 11s to begin practice."
Members of a baseball team were "batsmen," cross-country runners were "harriers," track and field athletes were "thinclads" and wrestlers were "grapplers" or "matmen."
Pitchers deserved praise when they struck out (or in sports page parlance, "whiffed" or fanned") 11 batters. The leading scorer in a basketball game had the "hot hand." Hopefully, he also did well at the "charity stripe."
On the football field, cheers erupted when a receiver ran (galloped, scampered) 45 yards to "paydirt." It was a shame the home team lost despite the early lead it acquired in the first "stanza." A team earned its eighth victory of the "campaign," much as a conquering Army relentlessly made its way from town to town. "Loop" was synonymous for "league."
There is no mystery behind the popularity of "tilt" as a substitute word for "game." Words with small l's and small t's always fit well in limited headline space. Imagine the glee of a frustrated sports editor when he came upon that word in his page-worn Thesarus.
(Betz is an assistant editor of The News-Item.)