The Demon Deacon: A Proud Tradition
HOMECOMING PROGRAM Wake vs. Virginia October 26, 1974
Probably no aspect of Wake Forest athletics holds more fascination or lore than the simple nickname of the school's athletic teams -- the Demon Deacons. That's right. Demon Deacons.
When heard by outsiders for the first time the nickname always draws a double take. And why not. While most of a school's athletic tradition has to be shared in some way with its competitors, (When Auburn and Clemson play each other, it's the Tigers vs. the Tigers or the Wildcats vs. the Wildcats when Davidson meets Kentucky, or Villanova), the Demon Deacon nickname is something that holds true uniqueness for Wake Forest fans and alumni.
And while there are any number of ways to dress a Tiger, there is only one way to dress a Demon Deacon -- with distinction. At least that's what Jack Baldwin thought in 1941 upon receiving a dare to be the Wake Forest mascot. Until Baldwin took up a fraternity brother's challenge, Wake Forest had a nickname but no figure to personify the spirit of the Demon Deacon.
The school had gained its nickname in 1922 when a gentleman named Hank Garrity, Sr. took over coaching the college's athletic teams and revived the Deacon athletic program, which had fallen on hard times. As the Deacons started recording wins on a regular basis, the existing nicknames of "Baptists" and "Old Gold and Black" did not seem to capture the new spirit of Wake Forest athletics. When the Deacons pulled a particularly satisfying win off over rival Duke, sports editor Mayon Parker of Ahoskie searched for a new phrase to describe the "devilish" spirit that marked the athletic teams. He found that description in "Demon Deacon."
Wake Forest news director Henry Belk picked up Parker's new name for the Deacons and began using it in the school's news releases. Soon the name Demon Deacon had become a familiar term with all sports fans.
Nevertheless, that's all it remained – Just a name. Then came Baldwin leading the Deacons on the field against North Carolina. He was dressed in top hat, tails, and umbrella, riding the Carolina ram, and while his fraternity brothers roared with laughter at the sight of him, no one realized that the Deacons would never play again without their Demon Deacon. -- A joke was to become an institution.
Here was a truly unique mascot. One which seemed a step above the Tigers, Gamecocks, Eagles, and Wildcats of the world. "We tried to make him a little more dignified than other mascots," Baldwin says, "so we dressed up like you would expect an old Baptist Deacon would dress up."
When Baldwin left, there were people in line waiting to carry on the tradition of the Deacon, each adding his own personal character and flavor to the tradition. Jimmy DeVos '55 of Libertyville, Illinois sent shock waves through a Bowman Gray crowd one afternoon when he dropped his pants – only to reveal a pair of Bermuda shorts. Ray Whitley '57 introduced the art of goal post climbing to the Deacon tradition.
However, probably no Deacon ever contributed more than Bill Shepherd '60 of Linville, N.C. From answering the Auburn fans' cry of "War Eagle" with his own of "Turkey Buzzard" to hitting "the shot heard around the state," Shepherd was a genius at eliciting crowd support for the Wake Forest cause.
The Student magazine caught the significance of the Deacon in the mid-sixties, as Hap Bulger '65 of Vienna, Va. amused and delighted crowds with his antics while the Deacon football teams were struggling on the field. "This Debonair Deacon", said the Student, "represents a spirit of spunk that cannot be contained in one loss or ten."
And that is the spirit that has prevailed into the Seventies. Once again the Deacon teams have fallen onto difficult times, but the spirit of the Deacon remains. This year Jeff Dobbs of Jamaica, N. Y. is the embodiment of that spirit, constantly encouraging and entertaining the crowd so that people will know that the spirit of Wake Forest athletics prevails even when talent is not as strong as students and alumni would like for it to be. That's the kind of spirit that has carried Wake Forest athletics through other "down" years as well as making the good years on the field that more satisfying and enjoyable — that's the spirit of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons.