Anatomy of a Mascot
What’s in a nickname? The story of the origins of Coastal's endearing and enduring mascot is a case of survival of the fittest.
As we all know, Coastal’s athletic nickname and mascot, the Chanticleer, is derived from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, one of the obligatory texts in the college English lit canon. We are also aware – as was made clear by the feather-ruffling controversy that arose last year when yet another opinion survey was conducted to assess interest in changing the mascot – that our Chauncey is a true survivor. What is not as widely known is how and why we chose this sly, witty chick magnet with phenomenal staying power to serve as the visual and attitudinal symbol of our athletic program.
Cal F. Maddox, now retired and living in Columbia, taught English at Coastal for three years beginning in 1962, the year the present campus opened. Coastal was then a two-year branch campus of the University of South Carolina with just under 100 students and a faculty of 12.
There was no athletic department then, and when Coastal formed a basketball team to compete in a regional league in 1963, Maddox became the coach “sort of by default,” he says. “I was no coach, but when Dick Singleton asked me to do it, I accepted.”
Maddox says he was coach enough to understand that, in order to compete against seasoned teams such as Pembroke State and USC Spartanburg, his young team would have to rely on something other than physical strength or experience at the collegiate level. Just as Chaucer’s rooster was saved from the hungry fox by his quick wit – plus the aid of Pertelote the hen and the old farm woman – Coastal players would have to use their heads and support one another very closely as a team.
“As it happened, most of our guys were good players and very bright,” says Maddox. “Many of them – Jimbo McLaurin, Dorn Backman, Richard Hawes, Worth Dudley, Seth Williams and others – had played in high school and had had the benefit of some good tutelage.”
Eschewing the man-to-man defensive approach, Maddox and his team focused on zone defense. “The guys knew how to position themselves and did it naturally,” says Maddox. “We also enjoyed the benefit of having a great center, Morgan Gilreath, who was 6-foot, 8-inches, the tallest guy in the league. He was great at blocking shots and that sort of thing.”
The simile linking his promising new team to Chaucer’s barnyard allegory was obvious to the young English professor/coach. The chanticleer was also from the same family of the animal kingdom as the gamecock, the mascot of Coastal’s parent institution, which was an important consideration in those days. (USC-Aiken had chosen “The Biddies” as its first athletic moniker – it was dropped after two seasons.)
In fact, at Maddox’s suggestion, Coastal’s newspaper had already adopted The Chanticleer as its new title, replacing the original, The Fledgling. (pictured right, Oct. 23, 1964, issue of the "new" Chanticleer newspaper)
Although he considered the chanticleer an appropriate and original nickname for the team, Maddox wanted his players to make the final decision. “I asked the guys what other names they might like to use. The ‘Seahawks’ and the ‘Sharks’ were two that were considered, but they finally chose ‘Chanticleers,’ and it stuck like glue.”
At the end of the first season, Maddox asked Singleton if he thought a formal student-faculty poll should be conducted to decide on a permanent nickname. “Singleton advised against it,” says Maddox. “We had gotten a lot of ink in the press about our unusual, original nickname. He was pleased with the coverage and the popular response the name seemed to generate.”
Maddox says he has no strong feeling one way of the other about keeping or discarding the nickname he created, and he admits that, with the coming of football to Coastal in 2003, the name loses its metaphorical resonance. “A football team will have to rely on physical strength to a substantial degree. There’s no way around it.”
A short time after Maddox returned to the University of South Carolina in 1965 to earn his Ph.D., a straw vote was held to check the campus pulse regarding the mascot’s popularity. This and every subsequent survey have testified to Chauncey’s appeal and emphasized his likeness to Chaucer’s triumphant original.
"Anatomy of a Mascot" originally appeared in the Spring 2002 issue of Coastal Carolina University Magazine.