Times change and perceptions evolve, usually for the better.
This will be demonstrated with the start of the new school year. It was officially announced last week that Pierre T.F. Riggs High School is changing the name of its female athletic teams from the Lady Governors to just plain Governors.
Obviously, this move could be viewed as a reflection of the status quo in South Dakota government that has existed since Kristi Noem was elected the state’s first female governor in 2018. That made the gender addition to the school’s nickname quite unnecessary.
It’s also a reflection of changing times, according to Pierre officials. The school’s athletics director, Brian Moser, told the Pierre Capital Journal that the change was made to keep pace with a trend across the state to have one gender-neutral nickname for athletic teams.
“A lot of schools are moving towards a joint identity,” he said. “We figured that we should be a part of that. It’s a way of uniting our athletes under one banner.”
This change should be in place whenever Yankton girls next face Pierre in athletic competition.
(Here, we need to point out that Yankton still refers to its athletic teams with two different names, but calling them Bucks and Gazelles is somewhat different. While Bucks is definitely a masculine reference — whether it is to a male deer or, in another, now-discarded variation, to a male Native American — Gazelles is gender neutral since, and this may surprise some young Yankton fans, a real-life gazelle can be either male or female.)
First off, good for Pierre for doing this. It’s a move that was long overdue because the female designation (or, if you will, qualifier) was pointless.
In fact, it’s intriguing to consider why such gender qualifiers might have been put in place in the first place.
Pierre was not the only school in this state or nation to institute a gender label to its female athletic teams, particularly in the wake of the Title IX legislation in the early 1970s that mandated equal athletic opportunities for males and females. Some schools simply put the word “Lady” in front of their nicknames, or added the suffix “-ettes” at the end of the names. Others took it to more interesting lengths: The Gregory Gorillas once called their female teams the “Girl-illas,” and some teams with the nickname Vikings called their female programs the “ViQueens.” (In fact, Stanton, Nebraska, still refers to its female teams with this label.)
At one time, this may have been viewed as necessary and/or a way of cultivating a separate, unique identity from the male teams. However, while there may now be legacy or tradition attached to some of these female nickname variations, such separations are mostly unneeded. Fortunately, many of these have gone by the wayside, while others may cling to it, and that’s certainly their right.
To us, Pierre’s move looks like a good one. It will now be up to sports writers and fans to get out of the habit of referring to the “Lady Govs.” Moving forward, “Governors” will work just fine.