Tennessee couple wakes up to find strange dog that isn’t theirs snuggled up in bed with them

Delta State University Fighting Okra

(Bob Carlton)

Even though “Statesmen” is the mascot you might find on official paperwork buried somewhere in the rubble of academia, Delta State University has long been known for its unofficial mascot: the Fighting Okra.

But how does a scrappy seed pod come to represent pride in sports battle? Throughout the years, stories of its origin have continued to propagate. Some say it was born as an inside joke from the student body that didn’t believe “Statesmen” was intimidating. Or there’s the story that includes a stubborn okra plant on the baseball diamond.

According to The Delta Statement, after an fight broke out at the school’s basketball game with rival Mississippi College in 1985, refs promptly threw both teams’ mascots out of the game and enacted a temporary ban on the “Statesmen inevitable.”

Student-athletes gathered after the game to determine a new mascot for proceeding games, with an understanding it had to be “mean and green.” After a few ideas were tossed around, baseball pitcher Bob Black suggested an okra, because it was “green, fuzzy and tough.”

Others agreed, and when students lined the stands, chants of “Okra! Okra! Okra!” filled the air. After a few years, the mascot took hold with images of an iconic okra wearing boxing gloves and a threatening grin. Finally, an official vote for the “unofficial” mascot was taken and passed in the 1990s.

Florida Southern College Water Moccasins

When the school was named Southern College in 1906, its mascot was simply the “Southerners.” In 1935, however, the Florida Southern College name was adopted and, today, its official colors remain scarlet and white.

The mascot of Florida Southern is, indeed, one of the most feared of Southern reptiles: the water moccasin. Of course, any seasoned Southerner knows this terrifying, venomous snake is also referred to as the cottonmouth.

In case you aren’t intimidated enough, please take note that “mocs” are semi-aquatic, have large triangular heads, a dark line through the eye, elliptical pupils and large jowls due to the venom glands. These vipers also have facial pits that sense heat and are used to detect prey and predators. They can also be found year-round, day or night.

I’d argue this mascot is scarier than okra, albeit much less delicious.

University of Arkansas at Monticello Boll Weevils

In the early 2000s, as wife of a college football coach, I remember moving to Monticello and being dually dismayed and delighted that my husband was coaching for a team represented by the “Boll Weevils.”

This Southern mascot ties its roots back to a time when the University of Arkansas at Monticello was an agricultural and mechanical college and this insect ugly wastes to millions of tons of cotton.

Obviously, in 1925 the University president came up with the mascot idea at a pep rally before the school’s first homecoming game. That same year, UAM students fell in love with the name and adopted the boll weevil as the school mascot.

Sure, tigers and bears are scary. But have you ever stepped outside on a warm August night in the South? Bugs are the stuff of nightmares!

University of North Carolina School of the Arts Fighting Pickles

Although the university has no officially sanctioned athletic teams, the origins of its mascot began with a competitive game of football.

Considered the first public arts conservatory in the nation, UNCSA commenced in 1965. In the early 1970s, the premier athletic event was an annual touch-football game between a team from UNCSA and one from a Wake Forest University fraternity.

After a naming contest in 1972, the football team mascot became “The Pickles.” The slogan? “Sling ‘Em by the Warts!” This mascot eventually morphed into “The Fighting Pickles” in the spring of 2010 and, today, parades in an Elizabethan cap, piano tutu and a permanent Zorro-like facial configuration with a paintbrush in one hand and clapperboard in the other. Big points for creativity!

University of Louisiana at Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns (and Cayenne)

(Photo by Chris McDill/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Ragin’ Cajun mascot, which went into effect in the 1960s, is not actually a person or an animal of any sort. Instead, it’s considered a feeling that describes the unique culture and lifestyle found in Lafayette, Louisiana, where this University is found. (Quite the zen philosophy for such a spicy mascot!)

In the past, the infamous “Cayenne” mascot has also been found at sporting events. Around 2000, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette wanted to add a little extra something by incorporating an additional mascot in the form of a moderately hot chili pepper. As of late, however, “Cayenne” has been part of a branding battle (and disappeared mysteriously from sporting events in the 2010s). Although the school’s website has promised a detailed mascot history of the school as forthcoming, you’ll find that the apostrophe in the Ragin’ Cajuns logo is a cayenne pepper!

Admittedly, this list reads like a typical summer afternoon in the South: bugs, snakes and fresh-picked garden staples with a little spice. But the football mascot in the South is much more than a tradition — it’s a lifestyle. And kudos to the schools willing to embrace the quirks and fundamentals that make them iconic to its culture!

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