Evolution of the Deacon
He is a dynamic figure, often seen nibbling on Chick-fil-A in Benson on Sundays and mapping complex genome sequences in his free time.
Two years ago, he hiked the Appalachian trail in 12 hours and still had time to refurbish his penthouse in the Deacon Tower before bedtime.
He freehand drew the design plans for South Hall in seven seconds with his left hand. He can eat an entire package of Saltines without taking a drink of water, once managed to slam a revolving door in Coach K’s face, and is the reason the treacherous ALE Officer Irwin was relocated.
He once discovered the meaning of life, but forgot to write it down.
He is, in fact, the world’s most interesting mascot.
Well, OK, not even the Demon Deacon can eat at Chick-fil-A on Sundays — but our mascot is one of the most distinctive in the NCAA, and he has a unique story behind him as well.
The white-haired gent with a fierce snarl, gold and black top-hat, and butt-like chin has been a well-known image since the early 1940s — but where did he come from?
As early as 1895, Wake Forest (then called Wake Forest College) claimed the colors gold and black in athletic competitions and debates, and for about two decades, used a tiger mascot that was designed by a student.
The school’s literary magazine, called The Wake Forest Student, described it in this manner:
“At last, Wake Forest has a college badge. It is a very neat button designed by Mr. John M. Heck and contains a tiger’s head over the letters WFC. The colors are in old gold and black.”
At the time, the mediocre Wake athletic teams earned the nickname “Old Gold and Black” from the color scheme of their uniforms, and were also often referred to as the “Baptists” because of the school’s religious affiliation.
In 1923, Hank Garrity took over as head football and basketball coach and led the football team — which had never before held a winning record — to three straight winning seasons.
Additionally, Garrity’s first two seasons with the basketball team chalked up a 33-14 record. Things were starting to look up.
After a tell-tale victory over rival Trinity (now Duke), Mayon Parker (‘24), the school newspaper editor at the time, felt that the unassuming image of the Wake Forest tiger should be intensified, accompanying the athletic department as it steadily rose out of obscurity.
Parker was the first to refer to the team as “Demon Deacons,” in acknowledgment of what he termed their “devilish” play and “fighting spirit.”
Obviously, the name stuck. But it wasn’t until Jack Baldwin (’43), a student who accepted the dare of a fraternity brother and dressed up as the often-alluded-to Demon Deacon, that mascot we know and love was given his trademark image.
At a home football game against UNC-Chapel Hill, Baldwin donned an old black tuxedo and top-hat and entered the stadium atop a ram, which is the Tarheel mascot.
This refined look was the beginning of the outfit that the cartoonish character still wears today.
“Some of my fraternity brothers and I were just sitting around one evening,” Baldwin recalls, “and came to the agreement that what Wake Forest needed was someone dressed like a deacon — top hat, tails, a black umbrella and all that. We wanted him to be more dignified than other mascots, sort of like an old Baptist Deacon would dress.”
The idea was a hit, and since then Baldwin’s humorous courage has given birth to a long line of intimidating entertainers at athletic games.
As far as changes in the Demon Deacon logo, the earlier graphics featured a full-body shot (sometimes holding an umbrella), whereas the current trademark image simply features his face — but the fierce eyes and firmly clenched jaw have remained consistent.
Over the years, the unique look of this devilish holy man has been accompanied by some pretty strange antics. First was the plunger-twirling Bill Sheppard in the late 1950s, who always rallied the crowd from atop the goal posts.
Then there were the 1961 headlines about the Deacon climbing to the top of the chapel, the 1981 story about him knocking himself unconscious after smashing his head into a Gatorade container, and of course, the famous tradition of him riding a motorcycle into the stadium.
We certainly don’t win every game, but when we do, the Demon Deacon swells with pride. As our most well-known ambassador and biggest sports fan, our mascot has evolved as a notorious figure that serves as a reminder to the student body of the importance that school spirit holds within the tradition of Wake Forest.