THE VIRGINIA Tech mascot has become a social icon over the years, having joined the school in the late 1800s.
Hokie Bird has undergone a number of changes over the years but has remained the trusted mascot for Virginia Tech.
Who is Hokie Bird?
Hokie Bird is the official mascot of Virginia Polytechnic University, informally known as Virginia Tech.
The original costume was similar to that of a turkey, but since the 1970’s it has undergone numerous changes.
Also called the Hokie Mascot and the Hokie, Hokie Bird has undergone extensive modifications over the years to make it look less like a turkey.
Barry Ellenberger, a 1991 Virginia Tech graduate and a former Hokie Bird mascot, told Virginia Tech magazine that many alumni were initially unhappy with the changes to Hokie’s costume.
“I think the reaction was so negative because people were used to the long-necked suit and the short-necked suit didn’t really match the official logo,” Ellenberger said.
Bill Berry, a 1984 graduate of Virginia Tech, wore the Hokie suit for two years and said, “Some[alumni]weren’t really excited about the new look because it didn’t really look like a turkey.”
When Hokie Bird underwent another change in 1986, the school’s logo was changed to match the mascot and the result was a more consistent look.
Peg Morse, Director of Internet and Computer Services for Athletics, said: “What we wanted with the new mascot was one that had personality and could be characterized across different sports.
“We wanted him to move, live. He had to convey power and strength while being a turkey.”
How did Hokie Bird become Virginia Tech’s mascot?
OM Stull was in the Class of 1896 when he won $5 for creating a new school cheer:
“Hoki, Hoki, Hoki, Hy.
Technician, technician, VPI
Rae, Ri, VPI”
The cheer was later used as inspiration for creating the Hokie Bird mascot by adding an -e to Hoki, although according to Virginia Tech Magazine, Stull later admitted he invented the word as an attention-grabber.
Hokie Bird was first introduced by Floyd Meade as a real, live turkey who frequently attended Virginia Tech sporting events, although he did not attend school himself.
Meade trained turkeys and took them to school events to entertain crowds. He eventually passed the torch to William Byrd Price, who continued to raise and train the turkeys for the sporting events until his retirement in 1953.
The turkey mascot faded from view, and it wasn’t until the early 1960s that another student, Mercer MacPherson of the Class of 1963, came up with the idea of the Hokie Bird mascot.
“In the early ’60s the Corps pretty much ran Virginia Tech, and it seemed to me that we didn’t have much spirit in the civilian student body,” MacPherson told Virginia Tech Magazine. “I saw the Pitt Panthers, the Nittany Lion and I thought, ‘We should have a mascot.'”
When the Hokie Bird costume arrived, MacPherson said no one wanted to wear it. He did.
The Hokie Bird is now more than a mascot and representation for the school, it has also worked to help others over the years.
“Everyone loves the HokieBird,” Morse said. “The HokieBird means a lot to a lot of people. From working with children on reading programs to seatbelt promotion programs to sponsoring recycling programs, everything the HokieBird does stands for good causes.
“Really, for someone who doesn’t speak, the HokieBird is a good speaker.”
What goes into donning the Hokie Bird suit?
Being Hokie Bird’s mascot is not for the faint of heart. The suit is heavy, requiring strength training and hours of practice to kick the ball in the costume.
“People underestimate the time and effort it takes to be the HokieBird,” Morse said.
“You practice kicking field gates with these feet. They train in the weight room — a lot of people couldn’t put that suit on and do what they do. Every time they step into the suit, they lose seven to eight pounds of water weight.”
Ellenberger added: “The suit is basically a large fur sauna with very little ventilation. Walking around in an unventilated carpet in 90 degrees for five hours is not for the mellow.”
The costume is worn by four students each year, taking turns to prevent one person from wearing it for too long.
“When they’re in the suit, they become the HokieBird,” Morse said, adding, “You’re just that creature’s movement.”
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