Fans across North Carolina root for the Wolfpack, 49ers or Fighting Camels. Many, however, have no idea how their favorite college team got its name.
In our first two weeks, we’ve looked at eight Division 1 schools in the state and traced the history of each team’s nickname. This week, we take a look at four more schools from our state.
Campbell Fighting Camels
Only one other school in the entire nation — Division III Connecticut College — sports the nickname Camels. Campbell started as the Hornets, but they changed in 1934. Why? Things are a little hazy. One origin story (which the school, understandably tries to downplay) relates back to a popular cigarette brand. In the 1930s, Camel cigarettes had the slogan “I’d walk a mile for a camel,” which students, hoping to show their devotion to their alma mater, may have adopted.
The more accepted story goes back to December 1900 when a fire destroyed just about all the buildings on campus. Founder and school president J.A. Campbell was home in bed, weeping, when the man who would spearhead the rebuilding of campus, Z.T. Kivett, visited him and gave a pep talk.
“Time’s wasting,” he told Campbell. “Get out of that bed! Your name’s Campbell, now get a hump on you! We’ve got work to do!”
Campbell supposedly misheard Kivett and thought he said, “You’re a camel, now get a hump on you.”
Western Carolina Catamounts
The sports teams at Western Carolina were originally known as the Teachers and, for some reason, the Yodelers. The Catamount nickname dates back to a “name-the-team” contest from 1932. Unlike many such contests, the finalists for Western Carolina’s moniker were both spectacular. In addition to Catamounts — which refers to any type of wildcat, including bobcats and lynx — the other finalist was Mountain Boomers, which is a type of small ground squirrel found in the area that’s also difficult to catch. Football coach C.C. Poindexter got to make the choice and liked the idea of the team being named after an animal with a “fierce spirit, savage attacks and lightning-quick moves.”
UNC Asheville Bulldogs; Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs
The nickname Bulldog is the third most common in college sports (including all divisions) with more than 40 teams around the nation claiming it. The nickname is just as popular in North Carolina, which has a pair of Bulldogs.
Former UNC Asheville history professor Kevin Frazier explained the popularity of the nickname to the student paper earlier this year. “Bulldogs have always had this sense of being this big tough beefy animal,” he said.” You’re not gonna have the collies. Collies are great dogs but it doesn’t have the same sense.”
One of the benefits of the nickname is that it lends itself well to live mascots. Gardner-Webb has had several over the years, starting with Butch I in 1947. He lived with coaches and deans for six years, going to work on campus with them during the day and developing a habit of sleeping in the middle of busy hallways. When he died, he was followed by Butch II, who lived with a member of the team, Chins, who lived with the school’s organ teacher, and a pair of Victors. From 1969 to 2015, the school went without a live dog mascot until Roebuck, named after late athletic administrator Mike Roebuck who died in 2015.
The school also has Mac, a costumed human mascot, and his female counterpart, LuLu. In a move that is highly unusual for college students, Mac and LuLu were married in a ceremony at the school’s basketball arena in February 2015.
Meanwhile in Asheville, the school has gone by the Bulldogs since 1929, two years after the university opened. Their first live mascot was in 1948 and was named Puck, after the Shakespeare character. He was followed by Puck II, Chug-a-Lug and Winston.
The school stopped using live dogs in the 1980s but had an unnamed costumed human mascot. A contest in 1995 gave him the name Rocky. A Rocky statue was constructed in 2000, and students are supposed to pat its head for luck, including right before they march in graduation.
The school brought back a live mascot, also named Rocky, adopted from a rescue, in 2009. He died in 2016, and the school just replaced him this year with Pumpkin, who is actually owned by an alumnus of the University of Georgia, which is also nicknamed the Bulldogs.
The live mascot handlers frequently have to carry a towel, since bulldogs tend to slobber, but they’re extremely popular with students. As one UNC Asheville student told the school’s magazine, “Rocky makes me glad I didn’t go to NC State. I don’t want to pet a wolf. And I’m OK without a battering ram.”