Thursday, March 26, 2009

Franklin Pierce, Statespersons, Fighting Okra, and Mavericks

You gotta love a school that is named after one of the most obscure U.S. Presidents, who is mostly remembered for being an alcoholic, southern sympathizer in the years leading up to the Civil War. The school eschewed such obvious nicknames as the Doughfaces or the Lushes, and its athletic teams are known as the Ravens. Despite dragging the anchor of its namesake's reputation, Franklin Pierce University can bask in the glory of its women's basketball team, which is on its way to the NCAA Division II championship game, after trouncing Delta State 58-39 in the semifinals. The Delta State athletic teams are officially known as the Statesmen, a politically correct, if somewhat boring nickname. Are the women's teams then the Lady Statesmen? Stateswomen? Statespersons? Perhaps life would be easier if they just went by the unofficial nickname, The Fighting Okra. Consider the following from The St. Petersburg Times Online:
In nickname realm, Fighting Okra snappiest
Published May 23, 2004

College sports nicknames become powerful identities. Passions are massive around Florida for Seminoles, Hurricanes, Gators and Bulls.

Nationally, dozens are familiar, each with marketing magic, including Fighting Irish, Tar Heels, Wolverines, Ducks, Horned Frogs and scads of Bulldogs, Tigers and Wildcats.

Some universities double dip, like Georgia Tech with its Engineers and Yellow Jackets, also at Virginia Tech where Gobblers were replaced in a screaming landslide by Hokies.

Here's my favorite ...

Delta State, a Division II school with consistently strong athletics, has forever been Statesmen. But, in an inventive generation, the identity now sold on T-shirts, hats, mugs, key chains, banners and even a Beanie Baby is ... Fighting Okra.

Sixteen years ago, Delta State baseball players rooted in a rowdy group at basketball games on the Cleveland, Miss., campus. Creative youngsters found Statesmen a bit boring. They wanted change.

Uniforms are predominantly green, so the hardball suggestion was to become Fighting Algae. "Somebody with common sense suggested that, to rivals, our players would be more grossly labeled Pond Scum," said Delta State sports information director Paul Smith.

Baseball boys kept searching for something "green, Southern and ugly." Soon, the gang began to chant, "Fighting Okra!" Baseballers were so enthused they crashed the locker room at halftime, where stunned basketball chaps were serenaded with bellows of "Okra! Okra!"

Smith says the coach thought intruders were yelling, "Oprah! Oprah!" Being more into X's and O's than promos for a TV host, he ejected the cheerers. It didn't subside. Other patrons soon picked up the arena cry. Local newspaper writers began calling the hoops facility "Okradome."

Even as Delta State traditionalists lobbied to diminish the Fighting Okra movement, demand kept escalating for a veggie known more scientifically as Abelmoschus esculentus. Okra has become a cash cow.

Today's symbol is a sneering, grubby piece of okra that wears boxing gloves and perches proudly on paraphernalia sold at the campus bookstore. What a tasty matchup if the Fighting Okra meets Rice.

You can find Hardrockers at the South Dakota School of Mines, Vixens at Sweet Briar (Va.) and, just for baseball, the Cal State Long Beach Dirtbags. Nothing more yummy than Fighting Okra.

The FP Ravens will be going up against Minnesota State-Mankato in the final game on Friday, March 27, 2009.

Go Ravens! Beat Mavericks!


  1. Hmmm, snappy okra. Isn't it soft and mushy?

  2. Depends how long it's been decomposing under the Mississippi delta sun.