When the NCAA Tournament tips off, you may know every team’s star player and its odds to win the title. But how well do you know the mascots? Not just what the teams are called, but where those names came from? Let’s take a look at some of the tourney’s more unusual nicknames.
East Tennessee State Buccaneers: It wasn’t until 1935 that ETSU athletic teams were referred to as the “Buccaneers;” previous teams were called “The Teachers.” The school was known as the East Tennessee State Teachers College in 1925, shortened to State Teachers College, Johnson City in 1930. Coach Gene McMurray was credited with coming up with the name ‘Buccaneers’ in 1935.
“The Teachers sounds too innocent and academic, and they wanted more of a fighting name,” says author Robert J. Higgs, professor emeritus of English from ETSU.
“‘Bull’ Bible joked about the name buccaneers and said it sounded like a bunch of bandits,” Higgs said.
The Buccaneer is a fine mascot for a coastal school, but ETSU is decidedly landlocked. What gives? A group of spelunkers found an underground river in the university area, known as Pirate Creek. The creek runs throughout subterranean tunnels in a southeasterly direction. Geologists theorize that Pirate Creek could have led to the Atlantic Ocean.
Local legend holds that Pirate’s Creek was once home to pirate Jean Paul LeBucque (LeBuc), who had fled from the coast to hide his treasure. Thus, an inland school has a pirate mascot.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons: Wake’s teams originally called themselves the Tigers, but that name didn’t stick. People started referring to the squads as “the Baptists” due to the school’s religious affiliation, and when the football team beat arch-rival Trinity (which would later become Duke) in 1923, student newspaper editor Mayon Parker dubbed them the “Demon Deacons” to honor both their Baptist affiliations and their ‘devilish’ play. Henry Belk, Wake Forest’s news director, liked the title and used it often, so the popularity of the term grew.
The actual mascot made its first appearance in 1941. As the “Demon Deacon” terminology became more popular, Jack Baldwin (1943 Wake Forest graduate) took the first step and became the first in the long line of Deacon mascots.
“Some of my fraternity brothers and I were just sitting around one evening,” Baldwin recalls, “and came to the agreement that what Wake Forest needed was someone dressed like a deacon — top hat, tails, a black umbrella and all that. We wanted him to be more dignified than other mascots, sort of like an old Baptist Deacon would dress.”
West Virginia Mountaineers: WVU’s ‘Daily Athenaeum’ reports that individuals served as the Mountaineer as early as 1927, when Clay Crouse was chosen. However, it was not until 1934-35 when trackster Lawson Hill served that a more stable selection process was established. Starting in 1937, the Mountaineer was appointed annually by the Mountain Honorary – the school’s prestigious senior honorary.
The Mountaineer mascot first appeared at WVU sporting events during the 1936-37 school year. Boyd H. “Slim” Arnold, a physical education major from Bayard in Grant County, was the first Mountaineer selected to serve three years in succession (1937-38-39) and was the longest tenured until Rock Wilson equaled it in 1993. (1991-92-93).
During Arnold’s tenure, he became the first Mountaineer to wear the now traditional buckskin uniform. Minutes of Mountain meetings from the late 1930s indicate that a donor gave the Honorary several deerskins asking that a buckskin costume be made for the Mountaineer. Prior to that the Mountaineer wore overalls, a flannel shirt, coonskin cap, a sheep or bear skin type vest and carried a rifle.
The rifle is a true flintlock that requires the user to become schooled in the amount of powder required to fire the charge.
UT Chattanooga Mocs: The school’s athletic teams are called the Mocs. Taking the name from Moccasin Bend in the Tennessee River, UTC adopted a water moccasin as its mascot in the 1920s.
Along the way the school changed the mascot to a Cherokee tribesman: Chief Chattamoc, and in the 60s & 70s a moccasin shoe served as UTC’s mascot. In the late 70s the mascot returned to a Cherokee tribesman, this time Chief Mocanooga.
The Chattanooga InterTribal Association criticized UTC for using the mascot, because they believed Native Americans were portrayed in an unfavorable manner. Chief Mocanooga wore feathers and warpaint, and the association and other Native Americans said Southeastern Indians were not warriors.
The university assembled a 17-panel committee to discuss the issue and come to a decision. UTC adopted a new mascot in the ’96-’97 school year – Scrappy.
The name came from A.C. “Scrappy” Moore (a former football coach.) Scrappy is a mockingbird (Tennessee’s state bird) and dresses as a railroad conductor. The school’s main athletic logo features Scrappy riding a train (a reference to Chattanooga’s history as a major railroad hub and to the song “Chattanooga Choo Choo”.)