What Is a Demon Deacon?

The world of college athletics is full of common mascots. Eagles are particularly widespread, as are lions, tigers and bears. But Wake Forest University has one of the more unique mascots with their Demon Deacon. As you might expect, the origins of the Demon Deacon are as odd as its name.

By Jeff Calareso

Demon Deacon

Before the Deacon

Before there was a mascot at Wake Forest, there was a badge. The 'Old Gold & Black' color pattern that is still used today may date back as far as 1895, when the institution was called Wake Forest College. Some have speculated that the colors are related to the Bible, but most believe they were matched to the tiger's head used on the badge. This was created John M. Heck, who tragically died of typhoid fever at age 19. Heck's creation was used by Wake Forest for over twenty years.

Birth of the Demon Deacon

In the early 1920s, the tiger fell out of favor at Wake Forest. Some called the school's teams the 'Baptists.' Others just referred to them as the 'Old Gold & Black.' For most athletic teams at the institution, the first few decades of the 1900s meant losing seasons and low morale.

Fate took a mischievous turn when Hank Garrity arrived as a basketball and football coach in 1923. The fortune of both teams improved immediately. The football team put up three consecutive winning seasons and the basketball team went 33-14 in Garrity's first two years.

The turn of events for Wake Forest was immediately noticed by Mayon Parker, editor of the school newspaper. After the football team beat rival Trinity, which later became Duke, in 1923, Parker coined the nickname 'Demon Deacon.' The various older nicknames no longer seemed to fit the spirit of Wake Forest's teams. Parker noted that the athletes had a newfound 'devilish' play. Both Garrity and Parker began using the Demon Deacon nickname extensively and it's stuck ever since.

Demon Deacon

Becoming a Demon

The Demon Deacon was just a nickname for nearly twenty years. In 1941, student Jack Baldwin was sitting with his fraternity brothers and discussing the university's nickname. They agreed that Wake Forest deserved a proper mascot. They wanted the Demon Deacon to dress as an old Baptist deacon might, including top hat, tails and black umbrella. The goal was to make him more dignified than the mascots at other schools.

The following Saturday, Baldwin made his debut as the first Demon Deacon. He found a top hat and an old tuxedo and made his entrance while riding the North Carolina ram. What seemed at first to be a joke became an instant tradition. By the time Baldwin graduated, there was no shortage of other students waiting to take his place.

Throughout the years, more than a few colorful and inspired students have expanded the role of the Demon Deacon. 1957 graduate Ray Whitley was the first Deacon to climb a goalpost. Shortly thereafter, Bill Shepherd created his 'turkey buzzard' in response to Auburn University's 'war eagle' cry. In order to further motivate students for the football team, 1961 graduate Joe Hensley began a new tradition by climbing to the roof of Wait Chapel in his costume. For well over half a century, the Demon Deacon has inspired students in a way that is entirely unique to Wake Forest.

Interested in other unusual mascots? Check out the University of Maryland's Terrapin.

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