Even in the midst of holiday revelry and delicious family meals, the world of higher education remains present in many students’ minds, particularly as they build their college lists, prepare for standardized tests, or finalize their applications. While you may hope that scrumptious stuffing, casseroles, and turkey will provide a much-needed distraction from thinking about college, some foods on your Thanksgiving table may keep the many college options in the forefront of your mind, as they serve as untraditional mascots for some U.S. schools. Rather than the mainstream bears, tigers, and eagles, these five schools have chosen mascots that are particularly delicious—and may just appear in your holiday table:
1. The Virginia Tech HokieBird
No Thanksgiving table is complete without the creature that serves as Virginia Tech’s mascot: a turkey. Originally known as the “Fighting Gobbler,” Virginia Tech’s turkey mascot is now known as the HokieBird. In the early 1900s, a student taught a live turkey to do tricks on the sidelines of Virginia Tech games, including gobbling on command—hence its original name, the Fighting Gobbler. In 1981, after the live turkey was retired in favor of a costumed mascot, the name was changed to the HokieBird. For Thanksgiving 2019, the HokieBird appeared at the White House turkey pardoning ceremony to welcome the pardoned turkeys, who would retire at Virginia Tech.
2. University of Nebraska Cornhuskers
The Cornhuskers of the University of Nebraska pay homage to the state’s rich agricultural history. Dating back to 1900, the term “Cornhuskers” was coined by Charles S. “Cy” Sherman, a sportswriter for the Nebraska State Journal. In the 1950s, the Cornhuskers were represented by an anthropomorphic ear of corn, dubbed “Corn Man”—but the mascot was short-lived. After going through mascots such as Huskie the Husker and Mr. Big Red, the school debuted Lil’ Red alongside Herbie the Husker, becoming the first school with two mascots. Best friends, Herbie and Lil’ Red represent the state and the university with pride and playfulness!
3. Concordia College Kernel the Cob
The University of Nebraska isn’t the only college with a corn-y mascot—Concordia College in Minnesota is represented by the mascot Kernel, a giant corn cob. The term corn cob started as an insult in the late nineteenth century and became an endearing name that students at Concordia reclaimed for themselves. After numerous different corn-themed mascots had come and gone, Kernel the Cob was introduced to the school in the early 2000s. Since then, Kernel has been honored as the NCAA’s #1 Most Meatless Mascot and ESPN’s #2 most creative college mascot.
4. Wichita State WuShock
Wichita State’s mascot is WuShock, a muscular bundle of wheat with a tough shock of hair. While wheat may seem like a more suitable Thanksgiving meal ingredient than a sports mascot, WuShock has a storied history in Wichita State lore. The mascot was created in 1948 by Wilbur Elsea, a student who won a competition to select the mascot. He designed WuShock with the idea that “the school needed a mascot who gave a tough impression, with a serious, no-nonsense scowl.” Over the years, WuShock has developed from a humble kitchen ingredient to a mighty symbol of the university.
5. Delta State University Fighting Okra
While the official mascot of Delta State University in Mississippi is the Statesmen, more than two decades ago, students decided to reinvent the university’s image in a playful (and nutritious!) way, inventing the Fighting Okra mascot. While a number of rumors and legends surround the selection of the mascot, the Delta State community seems to agree that the mascot works because “Okra is tough, green and prickly”—but don’t use those terms to describe your grandmother’s fried okra this Thanksgiving.
Happy Thanksgiving to all!