Mountaineers, Pirates, Wildcats and 49ers, oh my!

In the second installment of a series, NSJ looks at how four North Carolina schools got their nicknames

Davidson got its nickname, the Wildcats, thanks to an upset on the football field. (Chuck Burton / AP Photo)

Last week, we looked at the twisted road the state’s four ACC teams — UNC, Duke, NC State and Wake Forest — took to their nicknames. Now we take a look at another group of North Carolina schools.

Appalachian State Mountaineers

Anyone who has paid a visit to App’s campus in Boone will understand why the school decided to start calling its sports teams the Mountaineers. The school’s website explains that “the pioneering spirit necessary to overcome the mountains’ hardships quickly characterized the institution.” Just as interesting is the school’s mascot — the hat and plaid-clad mountain man Yosef.

Up until 1942, App was known as the Mountaineers but had no actual mascot. Then, to fill a hole in the freshman class section of the school yearbook, the editors created an imaginary student they called “Dan’l Boone Yoseff,” or, to translate a mountain accent, “Daniel Boone, yourself.” He became popular and spawned a tradition. Yosef wrote editorials for the school paper throughout the decade and eventually became the team mascot.

East Carolina Pirates

Stay with us for this one, because it has a few twists and turns.

ECU has been known as the Pirates since 1934, a nickname that made sense since the eastern portion of the state is steeped in pirate lore with Blackbeard, who had various hideouts on the Carolina coast, being the most famous.

Despite the name, the school’s mascot wasn’t actually a pirate until 1983.

East Carolina’s athletic teams have been known as the Pirates since 1934, but the school has used several different mascots. (North State Journal)

For awhile in the 1930s, the school had a live wildcat as a mascot. In the 1950s, ECU had a Great Dane who paid tribute to the team nickname with his own name — Buc (short for buccaneer). Then, strangely, East Carolina went with a French poodle in the 1960s. In the 1970s, there was a mutt named Pete. Students also occasionally dressed as parrots to serve as unofficial mascots.

Finally, in 1983, the school decided to go with a costumed pirate and held a contest to name him. The name PeeDee the Pirate was chosen, named after the Pee Dee River, where pirates were known to hide out.

The student body complained that the community vote didn’t take their opinion into account, and the PeeDee was officially dropped from the name in 1985, although the mascot is still commonly referred to as either PeeDee or Petey the Pirate.

Charlotte 49ers

It’s easy to see why San Francisco’s NFL team is the 49ers. They’re named in honor of the 1849 gold rush that brought the first settlers to California in search of treasure.

Sure enough, Charlotte’s mascot, Norm the Niner, is a gold miner that looks straight out of the 19th century. But what does Charlotte have to do with the California Gold Rush?

Nothing, as it turns out. In fact, the 49ers of the east take their nickname from a date 100 years after the one that spawned San Francisco’s nickname.

Charlotte began as a satellite campus of the University of North Carolina in 1946. It was originally a night school, and, because of that, Charlotte’s sports teams were known as the Owls.

After three years, the state was ready to close down the campus. A group of supporters were able to convince the legislature that the city needed its own college, however, and Charlotte College was established in 1949.

The school’s first year as an independent college required everyone to have a “pioneering spirit,” and they chose the nickname to honor the year, 1949, and harken back to the pioneers of a century earlier. A gold mine is supposedly located near campus, which provides an additional tie-in. The school is also located just off of Highway 49, although officially, that’s just a coincidence.

Davidson Wildcats

It’s one of the most common college nicknames around, but Davidson has an interesting story that got it to Wildcats.

It was November 10, 1917. Up until that point, Davidson’s football team had been known, at various times, as the Preachers, the Presbyterians and the Red & Black.

Davidson sent its football team to Atlanta as one of the biggest underdogs in the sport. Davidson had exactly 22 players make the trip. They were 2-4 on the season and facing Auburn, who was 5-0 with four shutout wins, including 53-0 and 68-0. Davidson was outweighed by 20 pounds per man, and, in the game, Auburn gained 240 yards on the ground to Davidson’s 91.

Davidson was able to throw the ball, a relatively new development at the time, and sprung a 21-7 upset over heavily favored Auburn. Atlanta sportswriters raved about how small size can be overcome by a ferocious nature, as the “Wildcats from Davidson” proved.