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Weird Mascots in College Sports

Courtesy of Gary Cope via Flickr

One of college’s oddest mascots makes its home at Virginia Tech University. The Hokie has always been a mascot that fans have puzzled over. While the mascot costume is a turkey, the origin of the word has nothing to do with the bird. 

Virginia Tech was originally called Virginia Agriculture and Mechanical College, but was later changed to Virginia Agriculture and Mechanical College and Polytechnic Institute. The name was so long, it was shortened to VPI. After the name change, the school needed to find a new spirit yell, and so the administration hosted a contest allowing students to write the new cheer for the chance to win the grand prize of $5. 

A student named O.M. Stull wrote a yell known as “Old Hoki,” and there the term was created. Later, an ‘e’ was added to the end of the word, and over the years the cheer has been modified slightly. But the term has stuck around until the present day. 

The lead up to the goofy mascot on the sidelines today occurred over several decades. It started with the term “Gobblers,” which many say first appeared as a description of the student athletes “gobbling up” all their food. 

The name was already popular in 1913 when the student body chose Floyd Meade, a resident near the university, to be the school’s mascot. At his first football game, he had a turkey pull him out onto the field in a cart, a tradition immediately stopped because of the harm it could cause to the turkey. However, Meade continued to bring the turkey to games and trained it to gobble on command. This tradition continued with Meade until 1924 when another “turkey trainer” took over. Gobbler became the popular nickname that the fans began to use regularly across

the country. 

In 1936, the costumed Gobbler made its first appearance alongside the real one. The use of a live turkey continued until 1962 when the costumed Gobbler took over permanently. 

The name Gobbler did not last once Head Coach Bill Dooley took over the program in the 1970s. Dooley heard the theory of the term originating from the way student athletes ate and did not like the image that promoted. He began trying to institute the nickname “Hokie” instead. 

Finally, in 1982, the costumed Gobbler morphed into the mascot fans see today. It resembles a cardinal and is maroon is color. Maroon and burnt orange were chosen as the school’s official colors because they were a combination that no other school had at the time — fitting for such a unique mascot. The Hokie still references its turkey roots by having a snood on its head. The costume worn by the mascots today debuted in 1987 and has remained unchanged since. Despite the move from the Gobbler mascot, the Hokies are still commonly referred to as “the Fighting Gobblers” as a way to honor the mascot’s roots. 

The HokieBird, as it is called today, has won numerous national awards and has even made an appearance on Animal Planet in a show called

“Turkey Secrets.”

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