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Origin and History of The Blue Devils

What are the origins of the term Blue Devils? How did Tift County happen to become known as the Blue Devils? When did Tift County High School’s teams come to be called the Blue Devils?  We believe that the origin of Tift County's mascot can be found thousands of miles from the United States, across the Atlantic Ocean in France.  The nickname of the World War I French Army elite mountain infantry division Chasseurs Alpins was “les Diable Bleus” or in English, Blue Devils.

“They first gained attention when their unique training and alpine knowledge was counted upon to break the stalemate of trench warfare in their native region of the French Alps,” according to Duke University. “Unfortunately the Vosges Campaign in March, 1915, failed to alter the status quo even though the Blue Devils won accolades for their courage. However, their distinctive blue uniform with flowing cape and jaunty beret captured public imagination. When the United States entered the war, units of the French Blue Devils toured the country helping raise money in the war effort. Irving   Berlin captured their spirit in song describing them as ‘strong and active, most  attractive . . . those Devils, the Blue Devils of France.’”

Trinity College, the predecessor of Duke, was looking for a nickname for its football program, which had recently been reinstated after a 25 year absence. The school’s colors were blue and white, just like Huntington and its teams were commonly referred to as the Blue and White. The college chose Blue Devils as its mascot/nickname for the 1922/23 school year. (Trinity changed its name to Duke in 1924.)

But that’s only the first part of the story. How did Tift County adopt the "Diables Bleus"as their mascot?

Here is information compiled by TCHS employee Lauraleigh Shealey:

As an adopted Blue Devil, I am still astounded by the amount of Blue Devil Pride within our high school as well as the community. Being an alumna of Cook High and still living within the Cook County line, I have never witnessed (nor felt) the kind of overwhelming pride for my own alma mater as  I started to have when I began working at Tift County High School over four years ago. This wave is infectious, and I’ve felt it during the school day, during the Alma Mater at Brodie Field- an awe inspiring sight in and of itself, and even on shopping trips around town.

Imagine my surprise when the high school media center received a call from the Tift County Public Library with a patron request on the history of the Mighty Blue Devil’s Origin. Using this as pretense to handle the Talisman, Tift County High School’s annual, from 1917, I just started to dig. 

In the earliest annuals from 1917 and 1918, there is no mention of Tifton High, as it was then known, having a mascot of any kind. After combing through these with no viable information, I paused. There was a gap of twenty years where the media center didn’t have a copy of the annual. Opening up the 1938 Talisman, I was met with the dedication page: “We, the Senior Class of 1938, respectfully dedicate this issue of The Talisman to Gerald Herring, Sr., Bob Herring, *Jeff Parker, *Neil Ryder, Donald Ryder, Silas O’Quinn, Roy Thrasher, Louis Matthews, Major Whiddon, and Ralston Patrick who were Tifton High School students that went to World War in 1917 to insure democracy for the world. This is the second issue of the Talisman. The first was printed in 1917, the year that the United State entered the war, and discontinued until the Senior Class of 1938 took up their work and continued to produce this edition. We intend for this Annual to be an everlasting tribute to those who fought for the United States. Our motto is fitting for the theme of this book. It is ‘I am an American.’” * Denotes deceased during WWI.

I am not sure why they considered the 1938 annual to be the second in production when a 1918 lays in the TCHS archives, but more curiously this edition was plastered in mentions of the Mighty Blue Devils with no mention of the adoption of the mascot. This caused me to do as any curious person would do: I skimmed the previous annuals and the internet for mentions of the soldiers. I found Jeff Parker sitting in the Class of 1919. He proudly stares out of his class photo in his crisp suit with his hands in his lap, and you wonder if this was the last picture taken of him before he decided to join the war effort.

As there were no other faces or names found in the 1917 or ’18 annuals, I started to comb the advertisements of the 1938 and 1939 annuals. Within them I found advertisements from alumni which included both Herring brothers: Gerald “Jake” Herring, Sr., class of 1916, and Robert “Bob” Herring, class of 1913. There were no other mentions of the other soldiers within annuals.

From this point, I made the transition and began research via the internet. On www.findagrave.com, a memorial website that honors mainly soldiers, the headstone of Robert “Bob” Herring which also included a brief history of the Herring brothers in WWI stating that they became a part of the American Expeditionary Force under the command of General John Joseph “Blackjack” Pershing and trained in France. The areas of France that General Pershing commanded were close to the areas where the legendary French soldiers the Chasseurs Alpins fought. These soldiers were mainly known by the nickname given to them by the Germans- les Diables Bleus which translates to the Blue Devils.

Interestingly enough, in reaching by word of mouth from current teachers we received several theories. Alumni from the 1980’s sent us that they remembered being told by their faculty that we got our mascot from Duke University. Coach Ivey Vickers answered and said she had been told by her father, the late James Winfred “Vic” Vickers, that the football coach and principal of Tifton High, Coach B.G. Childs, from 1914-1917 was himself a Duke University Alum and advocated for Tifton High to adopt the mascot. Albeit, he would have had to do this from the community standpoint after his retirement as Duke University did not adopt the Blue Devil as their mascot until 1922. From various stories graciously given from Mrs. Holly Hall and Mr. Spud Bowen, we pin pointed the year of adoption of the Blue Devil Mascot around 1924-1926. Mr. Bowen attributes this to our local American Legion, Georgia Post 21, bringing in the French Battalion, the Chasseurs Alpins, to Tifton around this time.

In short, what I have found are theories and coincidences that lend themselves to a story of the history of our mighty Blue Devils. We at Tift County High School ask the community that if you have any information to clarify or any information to correct from this story to please contact Ms. Lauraleigh Shealey at the High School either by e-mail lauraleigh.shealey@tiftschools.com or by phone at (229) 387-2475 ext. 8600. We are trying to preserve the history of the Blue Devil, and sometimes the history can only be saved through the grace of community.

The French Army elite mountain infantry division
Chasseurs Alpinswas known as “les Diable Bleus”.
French Army elite mountain infantry division