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Eulogy for Ebirt: Lessons from one of the Tribe’s great fans

Col. Ebirt is gone, has disappeared, is kaput! Retired without ceremony, the bright-eyed green glob no longer will grace the Tribe’s stands or bleachers, where he would offer his cushy-handed high-fives and his indomitable smiles even when the home team was down by plenty with little time left to play.

Although he may have blushed when he heard—in his absence—Tribe fans shouting, “We want Ebirt! We want Ebirt!” during the football squad’s recent home romp over Liberty, Ebirt would point out that it should never be about him. In fact, it was only partially about the team. What it was all about, Ebirt believed, was just being the “Tribe,” which he equated with being the fans.

Just where Ebirt came from remains somewhat of a mystery. The official word holds that he was created to lead “the regiment,” a joint venture between the College and Colonial Williamsburg that was initiated to generate support for athletic teams on campus. The unofficial word, created by those whose personalities animated Ebirt in hopes of addressing the question, “What are you?” that so often was heard, seems much more compelling.

As explained by Owen Gentry (’07), last year’s lead Ebirt, “Ebirt was a chemistry student who ended up in a late-night experiment that went all wrong. He was left by the Crim Dell, where he subsisted on frogs for the longest time while he healed. When he was better, he found out that he was large and green and that no one would recognize him anymore, so he dressed as an ordinary student in baggy pants and T-shirts and went to class.

’A lot of people called him silly and goofy, but there was a lot in that big head.’
—Owen Gentry

“Ebirt was one of the biggest Tribe fans you’ll ever see,” Gentry continued. “One day, having forgotten to put on one of his disguises, he ran to a game. When he arrived, however, instead of being aghast at his true appearance, people at the stadium cheered for him. Ever since, he’s been going to as many games as possible in order to try to make people happy.”

Although Ebirt was conspicuously politically correct in the world of mascots because he lacked a musket, arrows or even a great steed upon which to make his entrances, he did have a weapon. The feathers in his hat, which according to the unofficial biography were taken from the Swem Library’s special collections department with the consent of former President Timothy J. Sullivan, were magical.

“The magic feathers brought out good luck and spirit in people and led our team to victory,” Gentry said.

Some fans loved Ebirt; others were puzzled by his presence and perceived him to be a bit too generic and perhaps a bit too wimpy to serve as an official mascot.

“A lot of people called him silly and goofy, but there was a lot in that big head,” Gentry said. After all, Ebirt was maintaining a 4.0 grade point average at a college where maintaining a 2.0 would indicate that you are relatively smart.

As far as his being wimpy, that notion could be disproved just by watching his interaction with other mascots, including spiders and blue hens and Duke Dogs. “You don’t really need to be aggressive. You don’t need to attack, but you really need to stake your claim to your territory,” Ebirt believed, according to Gentry. “You need to let them know, ‘Hey, you’re at Zable Stadium, this is my house, and I’m not going to be pushed around.’”

One of Ebirt’s greatest disappointments was not being able to grapple with the Duke Dog during last year’s home game with James Madison University. Due to special mascot rules, the two could not “mix it up,” Gentry said, explaining that “in the past there had been mascot casualties.”

However, Ebirt’s best memories were the smiles. “Smiles would make him feel happy,” Gentry said. “It was great for him to see a little kid recognize him in the stands and come running down. Even more than that, it was fun to see the adults who really lit up and to have those adults find their little kid in themselves.”

Although disappointed by the decision to retire him—“He cannot talk, but Ebirt definitely is hanging his head right now,” Gentry said—his concern is not self-directed. “I think Ebirt really only wants there to be Tribe pride out there,” Gentry said. “And he wants there to be somebody to lead that pride and to be an embodiment of it.”

Gentry added, “It is important for our school to have a mascot. You’d be surprised at how many people actually go to the games for the atmosphere. Ebirt was all about the Tribe, and what is the Tribe if it is not the fans?”

© 2015 The College of William & Mary