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From a goat to a parrot

• Feb 21, 2015 at 12:00 AM

East Tennessee State University's athletic teams have been called the Buccaneers for so long, it's kind of become taken for granted.

But how, when and why did a landlocked college come up with the nautical nickname?

There are two schools of thought as to how.

ETSU's historical timeline credits coach Gene McMurry with coming up with the name in 1935. McMurray coached football, baseball, basketball and track, and is in the school's Hall of Fame.

As the climate for change was ripe because the East Tennessee Teachers College's nickname of the time, the Teachers, just sounded too academic, a football player actually might have been the one to suggest the new name.

Clyde Wayman, a co-captain of the team, was said to have submitted Buccaneers to his teammates for a vote in 1936. It passed, and the teams have had that nickname ever since.

When Wayman died in 1999, his obituary mentioned how he helped the school come about the change.

In the early 1930s, Big Stone Gap High School was already using the name "Buccaneers," and Wayman's Jonesborough High School team played against the Virginia squad. The name must have caught his attention, because a few years later, he supposedly asked Big Stone Gap if his college team could use it.

Either way, there was some resistance. At least one professor didn't like the idea because the name Buccaneer reminded him of pirates, which might hurt the school's reputation.

Nobody can argue that Buccaneers is a tougher sounding name than Teachers.

But why did they choose a nautical-themed name for a school more than 300 miles from the Atlantic Ocean?

That part gets a little tricky.

The school once put out a story as an explanation, and it's a doozy. It includes a Buccaneer named Jean Paul LeBucque wandering from Florida to East Tennessee through a series of underground waterways in search of a place to hide his treasure. According to the legend, LeBucque might have died during an upheaval of the earth's crust.

The story is cleverly written, using so many qualifying terms and phrases — “apparently,” “it is thought,” “the legend tells” and “evidently” — that nobody could ever accuse it of being presented as factual.

Once they were called the Buccaneers, the teams chose a mascot that had nothing to do with the name. A goat was the school's first mascot in 1950. He was named Captain Kidd and was succeeded by Captain Kidd II in 1957.

After Captain Kidd II, several mascots named Bucky came and went.

At the homecoming football game in 1980, Pepper the Parrot was introduced. Pepper, in various forms, remained a very popular mascot until he was phased out in the late 1990s and replaced by a more modern Bucky, who remains a fixture at ETSU games to this day and will likely roam the sidelines when football returns to the school this fall.