Hokie Bird: Virginia Tech’s Mascot Is the Result of an Obscure 1896 Name Change

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Mascot of the Virginia Tech Hokies, HokieBird, runs onto the field prior to a game

College football is a great pastime for much of America, and there are a lot of fun aspects in terms of college football culture, including mascots. A lot of teams have a unique or fun mascot who shows up at every game. Virginia Tech‘s is particularly surprising. How Hokie Bird came to be is a reminder of the school’s unique culture.

Virginia Tech’s first name: the Hokies

The story behind Virginia Tech’s mascot goes back over 100 years, all the way back to 1896, according to Hokie Sports. Back in those days, the school was called Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College, or VAMC.

Just like with any other sport, the school had a chant; it ended with “Virginia, Virginia, A. M. C.” But in 1896, the school changed its name to Virginia Polytechnique Institute or VPI, and that made the chant outdated. So the school held a contest to find a new chant.

The winner was from O.M. Stull, who was in the class of 1896. His chant was “Hoki, Hoki, Hoki, Hy; Techs! Techs! V.P.I.” This chant also became the source of the nicknames for the student-athletes. They were called “Hokies,” “Techs,” and “Polytechniques.” As for what the word “Hokies” meant, as it turns out, it has no meaning. Stull made it up so his chant would grab people’s attention, and it worked.

Gobblers: Virginia Tech fans’ nickname until the 1980s

That was how the Hokies’ name came to be, but the school’s mascot was actually a guy named Floyd Meade, who entertained the crowd. Either way, in 1908, students at VT started calling their athletes Gobblers instead of Hokies. The origins of that name are essentially an urban legend at this point, spawning various stories. A popular one: The name came from a random observer who said VT athletes gobbled their food.

Then, in 1913, Meade took a turkey he trained to games as a reference to that name. He did that until 1929, and the fowl became a fan favorite. This tradition kept going as Meade passed it on to another faculty member, William Byrd Price. He raised the turkeys and took them to games until 1953 when he retired.

Virginia Tech didn’t go cold turkey for long. In the early ’60s, students revived the tradition by dressing up as a turkey. Mercer MacPherson bought the costume, and he called it The Gobbler. It was a hit. After he graduated, various other students took on the costume to entertain the crowd at games. The costume was updated in 1971 and came with a long neck, but this new tradition did not last much longer.

The new Hokie Bird debuted in 1987

Bill Dooley became the football coach and athletic director for the school in 1978. He did not like the connotations of the Gobbler name. So he changed the name back to the Hokies and made smaller changes to reduce the references to turkeys. At the same time, the mascot, often called “The Hokie,” got updated again. It lost the long neck and didn’t resemble a turkey very much.

Students didn’t like that design. So in 1987, a new design debuted as the Hokie Bird. As one of the directors said, the costume conveyed “power and strength” while still looking like a turkey. This redesign worked, and it was well-received by the student body and the surrounding community. This design has also stuck around to the present day.