In 1920, most college sports teams had pretty drab nicknames. Davidson was the Presbyterians. Trinity, later Duke, was the Methodists. Wake Forest was the Baptists, or sometimes the Old Gold and Black. NC State was the Red Terror, UNC the White Terror. Among the more imaginative nicknames, Georgia Tech and Winston-Salem (soon to be Reynolds) High shared the Golden Tornado.
Then Trinity students, enraptured by a heroic French Great War unit, the Chasseurs Alpins, who wore snappy blue uniforms complete with capes and jaunty berets, decided to adopt their nickname…les Diables Bleus…and their capes. About the same time, the NC State football team played a horrible game which caused someone to write a letter to the editor of the school newspaper comparing the team to a rowdy wolf pack…other students liked it and the football team was henceforth the Wolfpack, eventually adopted by all State teams in the late 1940s. About that same time UNC would finally become the Tarheels.
The first NC State mascot was this bizarre “robot” created by a student in the 1940s. Another student walked behind with a “remote control” to direct the robot. That did not last long.
Hank Garrity, a 1922 Princeton graduate, led Wake Forest’s football team to a 19-7-1 record in 1923-25. His 72.2% winning percentage is the highest of any Wake Forest coach.
Meanwhile, Wake Forest’s football team was playing like a rowdy wolf pack every game. Then, in 1923, Hank Garrity took over as coach and set the Baptists on a winning course. When they pulled off a surprising 16-6 victory against Trinity, Mayon Parker, the sports editor of the campus newspaper, decided that the team needed a new nickname befitting its newfound talents. He came up with Demon Deacons.
James Mayon Parker, class of ’24, created the Demon Deacon nickname. He was 5-10 and weighed 132 pounds. He was an editor of the Old Gold and Black, 1923-24. Howler, 1924
But while Duke’s Blue Devil and Carolina’s ram were cavorting on the sidelines, Wake Forest still had no physical mascot. In 1941, during the week of the annual Carolina game, Jack Baldwin and some of his frat brothers were sitting around doing what frat boys do when the subject of a mascot came up. Someone suggested that he ought to look like an old Baptist deacon. On a dare, Baldwin agreed to play the part if his brothers would supply the costume. Of course, none of them had any idea what an old Baptist deacon would look like.
Jack Baldwin, class of ’43, with paddle, was the first Demon Deacon in 1941. Howler, 1943
On game day, Baldwin borrowed Carolina’s ram and rode him onto the field wearing a top hat, tails and carrying an umbrella…the living Demon Deacon was born. Over the years a number of other students took on the role. But it was left for William Glenn Shepherd to make it legendary.
Bill Shepherd, senior pic, Howler, 1958
Bill was born in Winston-Salem and graduated from Reynolds High School in 1954, enrolling at Wake Forest. In 1957, he was selected to become the new Demon Deacon. He discarded the umbrella, replacing it with a plumber’s rubber tipped plunger. He was a natural for the job.
He quickly became famous for his crazy antics, particularly his harassment of opposing cheerleaders and majorettes or any other pretty girls who wandered into his path. His duels with Duke’s Blue Devil, plumber’s helper against pitchfork, became epic events. Before football games he liked to balance on the crossbar of the goalpost, using his plunger to direct cheers.
Bill Shepherd, with plumber’s helper, prepared to do battle, Bowman Gray Stadium, 1957
When basketball season came, Frank McGuire’s Tarheels celebrated their recent national championship by using a blue and white ball for their layup drills. When they met up with the Demon Deacons, the ball disappeared. At halftime, Bill strode to center court and summoned McGuire. When Frank arrived at the center circle, Bill, as if by magic, produced the ball and returned it to its rightful owner, to wild cheers from the crowd.
Bill liked to twirl his plunger. At one game, he produced two and challenged the opposing team’s champion to a twirling contest. You can guess who won. In the spring of 1958, the local minor league baseball team, the Winston-Salem Redbirds, hired Bill to entertain at their games. Who can forget his favorite stunt, a slow and dramatic climb up the screen behind the plate to the press box at Ernie Shore Field?
On November 22, 1957, the Winston-Salem Journal published an article by Cathey Bost. I think it captures the spirit of Demon Deacon Bill Shepherd as well as anything could. Well worth a read. Click the pic for full size.
WARNING: I found this story while working on the Thruway post and another to come on the dancing controversy at Wake Forest College. I thought this would make a quick and entertaining post, but it ended up being way too much time spent. The Internet is a great place to do research, but be aware that you have to double, triple and quadruple check everything. Every source that I found had something wrong with it, from the date of the coining of the term Deacon Deacon to the information about Bill Shepherd…most sources claimed that he graduated from Wake in 1960 and that he was from somewhere besides Winston-Salem. Once someone posts something anywhere, it becomes gospel, even when it is not. Beware.