By: Jennifer Pukenas
It is 1975. The crowd watches in anticipation as their beloved mascot, Chief Moccanooga, runs onto the basketball court-headdress on and rifle in hand- with war paint on his face.
Once the mascot has emerged, he does his infamous war dance and starts taunting the opposing crowd with his spear.
This is what a University of Tennessee at Chattanooga student in the 80’s would have experienced at a home basketball game.
In the early 90’s, UTC changed their mascot because Chief Moccanooga was thought to be a racist mascot to American Indians. During the controversy, the Student Government Association took a poll in 1995 for current students to give their opinions on the mascot issues. A little over three percent of the student body gave their opinions, a fact that shows students were obviously not too fond of adopting a new mascot.
“It’s not a big issue as far as the general population of the campus is concerned,” Dr. Charles Renneisen, UTC’s former vice chancellor for student affairs had said at the time of the issue.
Sue Pukenas, an alumna of UTC, used to love seeing Chief Moccanooga at each of the football and basketball games.
“He would come in with his spear and headdress on and stir things up,” the former UTC cheerleader said. “Chief could always get the crowd riled up.”
After much discussion, Chief was banned in 1996 after being UTC’s mascot for nearly half a century.
Pukenas thinks that UTC didn’t push the issue far enough and gave up their mascot too quickly. After all, other colleges and professional teams have mascots which could be considered “racist”.
The Minnesota Vikings, the Kansas City Chiefs, the Atlanta Braves, the Ole Miss Rebels and the Florida State Seminoles are just a few of the mascots which could be questioned. Currently, Ole Miss is looking to change their mascot because of the same issue UTC dealt with.
“If there are professional sports teams which have similar mascots, little UTC should have been able to keep Chief Moccanooga,” said Junior Courtney Given from Brentwood, Tennessee.
Once “Chief” was terminated, UTC adopted the mockingbird, “Scrappy”, who still remains today. Scrappy, who has a grey body, wears many different Chattanooga shirts and his blue and gold diamond striped pants.
Although some feel Scrappy is a peppy mascot, the overall appearance doesn’t have the same effect as Chief Moccanooga once had.
“A mascot is supposed to put the fear in the other team; a bird just doesn’t do that,” Pukenas said.
While UTC may have given up too quickly and let their beloved mascot go, we can only hope that one day Scrappy can ignite the same passion and fire that Chief Moccanooga once had.