For some college basketball fans, just having a team that makes the NCAA tournament is something to cheer about. And for fans of Austin Peay State University, that cheer turns some heads.
Sophomore Kierney Foster recalls thinking it was a little weird the first time she heard it at freshman orientation.
“The man shouted out, he was like, ‘Let’s go Peay.’ And then he was like, ‘Everyone, let’s go to the restroom.’ But I got used to it,” she says.
The school’s namesake was a Tennessee governor who died in office in 1927. Austin Peay (pronounced like “pee”) was from Clarksville and authorized the creation of the school. He may be best known for his role in banning the teaching of evolution in schools, leading to the famous
Scopes Trial in Dayton, Tenn.
Over time, the school has fully embraced its surname, with a wink. The university even produced a commercial.
This is not some underground chant against the wishes of stuffy administrators. The slogan is on banners all over campus. The bookstore is full of t-shirts. Letsgopeay.com is the athletics website.
“Sometimes people make light of that,” says basketball head coach Dave Loos. “But it’s pretty serious to people around here. That’s for sure.”
Loos says there’s pride in the chant — and power, says senior guard Khalil Davis.
“We could even be down ten, but right when we hear, ‘Let’s go Peay’ from our crowd, it just turns us all up,” Davis says. “That ‘let’s go Peay’ lets us know that the crowd is still on our side, no matter how much we’re down.”
And Austin Peay has been down. In fact, there wasn’t a whole lot to cheer about this year. The Governors (that’s their mascot) went into the post-season with a losing record. And then caught fire. They
stunned the field, winning the Ohio Valley Conference and an automatic invitation to the NCAA tournament.
It’s hard to pinpoint when this cheer really took hold. But the school points to the early 1970s and a star player by the name of
James “Fly” Williams.
“You should know me,” he says. “[I’m] the one that put Austin Peay on the map.”
Williams was a street baller in Brooklyn, known for his stylish clothes, who was recruited to play in Tennessee. The combination of “Fly” and “Peay” opened a world of possibilities.
“The Fly is open, let’s go Peay,” crowds would cheer, Williams says. They sometimes added, “We’re going to Peay on you. We’re going to Peay on you.”
Little did Williams know the slogan would become a licensed trademark of the university.
“As you grow older, you realize some of the things that you’ve done. But back then, it was just a chant,” he says.
Austin Peay went to the NCAA tournament both years Williams was leading the team. He now runs a youth rec center in New York. This week, he says he’ll put the game on TV for the kids. But he’s not sure it’s a good idea to teach the youngsters about his alma mater’s infamous cheer.
It may be a clash of the team chants
Thursday afternoon. Austin Peay will play number one Kansas, with its famous “Rock Chalk Jayhawk” cheer.