GRAND PRAIRIE, TX. - Baseball — whether it be Division I, the minor or major leagues — always has some added fun when the postseason arrives. Whether it be rally monkeys, intriguing nicknames or silly superstitions, something always adds to the excitement of that playoff time of year.
The same goes in Division II.
Delta State is one of the teams to watch here in Grand Prairie, Texas. While many of you probably know them as the Statesmen, the mascot their athletic department and baseball team goes by, they also have another moniker.
The Fighting Okra is not the official nickname of the school. It came about some 20 to 25 years ago, when some rebellious students grew tired of the Statesmen nickname. The student body created it, and after some initial pushback by the school, they have seemingly come to embrace it.
But what is the true story behind the beloved vegetable that fights alongside the Statesmen at seemingly every game?
I figured it was time to do some investigative reporting.
Sitting in the presser after Delta State’s huge victory on Monday — one which staved off elimination from the DII Baseball Championships — I asked the Statesmen’s superstar slugger Zack Shannon how he felt the confidence level was after losing 4-0 and then winning 4-0.
Goofy, you say? Sounds like Shannon, Clay Casey and Tre Hobbs were the perfect three people to get to the bottom of the mystery of the Fighting Okra.
“I have no idea,” slugging right fielder Clay Casey said laughing. “I know we’re the Statesmen, but when I went down to Delta State and I visited and they were talking about the Fighting Okra I was like, ‘huh?’”
“The Fighting Okra is the student body,” Shannon — the NCBWA DII National Player of the Year — said. “I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Cleveland, Mississippi, but I’m just assuming its because everything is fried. That’s about all we have down there, is fried food.”
“I don’t know if the story is true,” senior righty Tre Hobbs — who pitched a complete game shutout in the Statesmen’s Monday victory — said. “Some years ago the baseball team was on a losing streak. One of the guys made an okra necklace and they started winning. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but that’s what I heard.”
“There are about 50 different stories to how this thing came about,” J.T. Webb, a member of Delta State’s Athletic Communications Office, added laughing.
The Delta State University website tells a different tale. It includes the baseball team, firing up the basketball team and bringing the slimy, green vegetable to life. It’s a pretty good tale, but Hobbs seems a little more fun.
So is there an actual Fighting Okra?
“Yea he comes to all the games,” Casey said. “It’s goofy looking. It comes up and tries to slap me, and I’m like, ‘I don’t know, man. I don’t know how I feel about you.’”
Being an alum of a fellow fighting mascot myself — the Delaware Fighting Blue Hens — I had a question that needed to be answered.
Just how powerful is a Fighting Okra? Could it beat a Fighting Blue Hen in a fight?
“I’m going to be honest with you,” Casey said. “I’m going with the okra. Do Blue Hens even eat okra? I’m taking the okra.”
How would an okra defeat a Blue Hen you ask?
“He just jumps or something,” Casey said.
Obviously, the okra is a staple of southern cuisine. Doesn’t that make it hard for an actual Fighting Okra to eat his own mascot?
“I don’t eat it,” Shannon said very adamantly.
“I love okra, I don’t have a problem with it,” Casey said confidently. “Fried, 100 percent fried.”
Whoa. Be careful Clay. Sure looks like the Fighting Okra doesn’t take kindly to those that eat his brethren.