The Stormy Petrels of Oglethorpe


Ball caps are so very important to a bald man who’s unwilling to pay the Bosley hair-replacement folks a bushel of money to address something that stopped mattering to me so very long ago. And, with all that isolating most of us have been doing lately, I actually counted them one day and realized I could wear a different ball cap starting Jan. 1 and not have to put that New Year’s Day cap back on my noggin until June 6, and that’s even in a leap year!

Lest you have to ask Alexa how many days deep in a leap year June 6 is, the official count is 158. I’m always looking to add more. Several weeks ago, while working in Southern Ohio doing housekeeping inspections on a small university campus, I took a quick gander in the bookstore and stumbled upon a bald man’s dream, a table full of ball caps marked at two bucks apiece.

According to the store manager, who came up to introduce himself while I was shuffling through the selections, the hats were mistakenly delivered, which explained the variety of both professional teams and college caps from all over North America.

One snappy orange ball cap really caught my eye. In black letters, it bore the school’s name, Oglethorpe University. I did remember, probably from some long-ago taught history lesson or, perhaps, from reading it on a marker on vacation, that British emigrant James Oglethorpe founded the colony of Georgia back in the 1700s. Beyond that, I knew little else about Oglethorpe and even less about the university that apparently bore his name.

After scooping up hats that suggested some alleged interest I may have in the Montreal Canadians, the Boston Bruins, New York University, the University of Virginia, Defiance College and good old Oglethorpe and paying the modest amount for my prizes, I headed for the door, intent on Googling some information later about the university I assumed to be in Georgia.

I found out, indeed, Oglethorpe is in Georgia, Brookhaven to be exact, and with an enrollment of around 1,000 students, certainly will fight it out with Defiance College as the smallest place of higher learning I’ll promote when I select those caps after rising. While James Oglethorpe didn’t found the college, the Division III school was named in his honor, and its athletic teams use as their mascot, the Stormy Petrel, a bird with which Oglethorpe was apparently fascinated.

The storm-petrel is an Eastern Seaboard bird known for its grittiness and pluck. Capable of flying long distances over water, the petrel often flies low over the ocean’s surf and frequently slams into the water in attempts to spear fish to carry away for a tasty repast. While Oglethorpe’s Stormy Petrels don’t quite rise to the level of my favorite school mascot name, which remains the Ragin’ Cajuns, first of the University of Southwestern Louisiana and now of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, that ocean-diving fearless feathered one is certainly in my mascot upper echelon.

After learning of those Stormy Petrels, I couldn’t stop thinking about my pal Larry Williams, who, I believe, is one of this country’s greatest lovers of school mascots. I texted him and asked for his favorites, and it was like turning on a faucet. For the next four or five days, the ding indicating another text constantly was heard as he added more and more.

Says Williams, “As far as my favorites, it’s kind of hard to ignore the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers {pronounced SHON-ti-clears].”

The nickname comes from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. In Chaucer’s tale, “The Nun’s Priest Tale,” the chanticleer is a fierce and proud rooster who dominates the barnyard. Wrote Chaucer, “For crowing there was not his equal in all the land.”

Another favorite of Williams is the Elon College Phoenix. Going second-level knowledge on such important mascot matter, Williams added, “The school’s sports teams used to be the Fighting Christians, but maybe there were some Crusade haters out there who complained too much.”

Williams also favors the University of California Santa Cruz Banana Slugs, which honors the indigenous bright yellow slimy shell-less mollusk found on the state’s redwood forest floors. He’s also drawn to the Fighting Jackrabbits of South Dakota State, the Blue Hens of Delaware, the Gentlemen of Centenary College and the Student Princes of Heidelberg University.

Says Williams, “Just when I think I’ve run out of intriguing school nicknames, I’ll find another. There’s a school in Topeka, Kansas, Washburn University, and its sports teams are the Ichabods. Originally, I thought it might have something to do with Ichabod Crane in ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,’ but the nickname is actually an homage to one of the school’s early benefactors, Ichabod Washburn, whose endowment was large enough to change the name of the school from what was once Lincoln College to Washburn, thereby proving if you put enough zeroes behind the first number when you write a check, anything is possible!”

And, so it is for those oddly fanciful team mascots and nicknames. Thanks to Larry for a lot more input than my column space will allow. And, of course, he can also thank me for adding the Stormy Petrels of Oglethorpe University to his ever-expanding list.

John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a division of AIM Media Midwest, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books.

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