Only one college in the United States uses Wasps as its nickname. If not for Knoxville newspaper writers, an Emory & Henry coach’s penchant for bounding exercises and a switch to Whitetoppers, research shows E&H might be one of more than 30 colleges in the country with the nickname Wildcats.
For over 90 years – since 1921 – Emory & Henry’s sports teams have been known as the Wasps. Emory’s football team traveled by train to Knoxville, taking on the University of Tennessee, on September 24, 1921. That game is remembered for two events in college football history, the first being that the Vols faced the E&H in the first-ever game on Shields-Watkins Field (now Neyland Stadium).
In the game, the heavily-favored Volunteers managed only a 6-0 halftime lead, mainly due to a ferocious E&H defensive unit. Knoxville newspaper writers tagged Emory & Henry as the Wasps as its defense looked like Wasps swarming on defense and covering the ball, wearing their blue-gold striped socks, blue-gold striped jerseys with stripes on the chest and sleeves.
While Tennessee won the game 27-0, Emory & Henry won a new moniker, one that stuck and which was officially adopted by the College - the Wasps.
The nickname Wasps bumped Whitetoppers, as Emory & Henry athletic squads were known from 1920 through 1921. Named for the majestic backdrop of the nearly-century old campus, Whitetop Mountain, Virginia’s second highest peak, the athletic nickname was also adopted by the new student newspaper, the Whitetopper, which still bears the name. Both the nickname and school newspaper were named by then-Football Coach and Athletic Director T.B. “Bingo” Fullerton.
If it had formed a few years earlier and used the same naming scheme, the student newspaper could be called the Jackrabbit. In use only two years – fall 1918 thru spring 1920 – the nickname probably came from Captain J.D. “Little Jack” Jackson’s calisthenics techniques for his football players.
While no definitive proof exists, oral history suggests that the football players were called Jackrabbits both for their coach and for the bounding type of warm-up exercises they performed to prepare for practices and games.
During his research, former Sports Information Director Nathan Graybeal uncovered evidence which strongly suggests a fourth known nickname for Emory & Henry athletic teams.
“The original baseball field and football field, located where Wiley-Jackson Hall (MaWa), its parking lots and the corner of Emory United Methodist Church now stand, is listed in some documents as Wildcat Park,” Graybeal said. “A logical explanation is that the college’s mascot at the time was the Wildcats.”
There is also evidence that from 1897 to 1906, a semi-pro baseball team called the Nationals played on campus. However, Graybeal says there is no evidence to lead him to believe that “Nationals” was ever a nickname for the E&H athletic teams. During that time period, there was both a varsity baseball team and the Nationals. The Nationals simply were a semi-pro team using the campus facilities - including uniforms - while playing their games during the summers.
While the names have changed, the colors have stayed the same, blue and gold.
Newspaper articles and yearbooks of the time refer to Emory & Henry as “the lemon and blue warriors” as far back as the 1890s. (The reference to warriors is a generic one, as no evidence shows the school ever used that nickname. Warriors during that time period was used similarly to the way “Cagers” was used for basketball during another time period).
Because Emory & Henry is blue and gold, one college in the ODAC is know as the Maroons. Oral tradition holds that the train delivering college athletic uniforms around 1907 made its stops moving from Chattanooga through Knoxville to Roanoke, and that the last set of blue-and-gold uniforms on the train were delivered to Emory & Henry. Another set was supposed to be on the train, but was not, leaving only maroon uniforms by the time the train reached Roanoke.
Roanoke College took delivery of the maroon jerseys, even though the college’s school colors were officially blue and gold. This train delivery of Maroon uniforms gave birth to Roanoke’s nickname “Maroons.” Roanoke College still uses blue and gold as its official academic colors.
“I love the fact that we’re unique,” said Graybeal. “No one else in the country uses Wasps, and with our tradition of sports excellence, it’s great to have a unique name to have other institutions and media outlets to use.”
Thanks goes to Nathan Graybeal for his work in assembling this article.