The University of Tennessee at Martin celebrated 25 years of being the Skyhawks on April 25, after the Skyhawk logo and caricature were originally introduced to UT Martin on this date in 1995.
UT Martin is the only Division I university to boast the Skyhawk mascot. While a Skyhawk is a mythical creature, its origin is deeply intertwined with the roots of the university and West Tennessee.
The Skyhawk derives part of its name from the term “sky pilots”: the nickname of the athletic teams at Hall-Moody Institute, which was the first educational institution on the site of the present university before UT Junior College was established in 1927. “Sky pilot” is a frontier description of preachers who traveled in the early 1900s.
The Skyhawk was fashioned from not only the Red-tailed hawks indigenous to West Tennessee, but also after the World War II pilots who were trained at the UT Junior College through a partnership with the Naval War Training Services. Pilots received initial flight training in the 1940s at Gill-Dove Field, which is where the Martin Recreation Complex is now located. The goggles, as pictured on the logo, are a dedication to the pilots who served during the war.
After the University of Tennessee Martin Branch became the University of Tennessee at Martin in 1967, the university has had three mascots: The Pacers, which featured a horse and sulky, before evolving into Pacer Pete and Pace-Her Polly, and then Captain Skyhawk. The mascot re-brand began in 1994 with the hiring of Benny Hollis, the first athletics director for both men’s and women’s programs, who wanted a distinguished, gender-neutral, marketable mascot that could easily be associated with UT Martin.
In 1995, the Skyhawk mascot’s first public appearance occurred during the historic football game featuring the first-ever Skyhawk-named football team and Bethel University, in which UT Martin defeated Bethel 97-7. That fall, students and faculty held a mascot naming election and eventually decided on “Captain.” Captain Skyhawk has continued to serve at university and athletic events since then.
In 2019, UT Martin Chancellor Keith Carver appointed a university committee to expand the enthusiasm and recognition of the Skyhawk brand. Intercollegiate athletics announced the first of two new alternative logos in January, which were voted on by students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members during the 2019 fall semester. Almost 4,000 participants were included in the decision process before the alternate and competitive marks were chosen.
“This marks the 25th year since the Skyhawk name and logo were introduced, and the timing is right to add an alternate mark to the logo family,” UT Martin Chancellor Keith Carver said when the first new mark was unveiled in January. “The Skyhawk logo is easily associated with UT Martin, so I see this as an opportunity to boost enthusiasm for our athletics identity. The design and communication of sports graphics have changed in the decades since the Skyhawk logo was first released, and we are proud to introduce these alternate marks as a way to bring our athletic brand into 2020.”
The alternate and competitive marks are not replacing the traditional Skyhawk logo, but offer a more aggressive and dimensional profile for the UT Martin Athletics logo package.
The new logos were designed by Finn Partners, a full-service advertising, marketing and public relations agency in Nashville who are best known for their logos designed for the Nashville Predators, Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders and Belmont Bruins. The original Skyhawk logo was designed by Dye Van Mol and Lawrence, now DVL Seigenthaler, which is the Nashville office of Finn Partners.
The new logos will be available on licensed merchandise this fall.
Information for this story was taken from the book, The University of Tennessee at Martin: The First One Hundred Years, by Bob Carroll, Assistant Professor Emeritus of History and member of the UT Martin Athletics Hall of Fame.