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Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Meet West Virginia's Mountaineer
By TERRY TOMALIN, Times Outdoors Editor
Published September 28, 2007
When the University of West Virginia football team takes the field tonight to play the University of South Florida, don't be alarmed by a gun-toting man in a coonskin cap patrolling the sideline. He's the team's mascot, the Mountaineer, carrying on a tradition that dates 80 years.
Brady Campbell, the reigning Mountain Man, went through a rigorous selection process to earn the right to wear his tailor-made buckskins. First there were the essays, and then the interviews, before he was cut loose at home basketball game to see how he handled a rifle in front of a crowd.
Campbell, a 23-year-old native of Charleston, grew up mountain biking and fly fishing, but he admits he was never much of a hunter.
"I took the state's hunter safety course, as is required for all who hold this position," he explained. "But I never actually shot anything."
When it comes to the selection of a mountaineer, hunting prowess does not matter. The hand-crafted, 45-caliber long rifle - modeled after those carried by the men who guided settlers across the Appalachian Mountains to the Ohio River Valley - is loaded with blanks.
But apparently that wasn't enough for officials at the University of Wisconsin, who in 2002 tried to stop the Mountaineer from firing his rifle at Camp Randall Stadium. Administrators eventually relented.
John Denver's hit 1971 hit, Take Me Home, Country Road, is typically played at most sporting events. You remember: "West Virginia, Mountain momma, country roads take me home."
Despite its he-man persona, the Mountain State has always provided equal opportunity for the opposite sex. In 1926, West Virginia opened the first federal prison exclusively for women, and in 1990, its university named its first woman mountaineer.
By all reports, Natalie Tennant could rally the troops as well as any man. But Tennant, who went on to become a TV news anchor, had one shortcoming: an obvious lack of facial hair.
"You have got to have a beard," Campbell explained. "It is not required, but in general, the bigger the better."
Clean-shaven before he accepted the post, Campbell said he suffered no angst upon his coronation. "If you saw my dad, you would know what I mean," he quipped. "He's got a lot of hair."
So the aspiring law student let it grow, noting that he keeps his whiskers neatly trimmed. "We have to do a lot of community as well as athletic events," he explained. "You have to look your best."
American history books are full of famous mountaineers. At age 22, Jedediah Smith blazed a trail through the Rocky Mountains and opened up the Oregon Territory to settlement. Jim Bridger would later shorten the famed Oregon Trail, paving the way for more expansion.
But when most Americans hear the phrase "mountaineer" they inevitably picture one or two of our great national heroes: Davy Crockett or Daniel Boone.
Crockett hailed from Tennessee, where "he kilt him a b'ar when he was only 3."
Boone, on the other hand, made his home in Kentucky, where he once split a tree in half with the single blow of an ax.
Boone vs. Crockett
Campbell, the Mountaineer, knows his state's history, but was stumped when asked who would win a Boone-Crockett grudge match. "I've never been asked that question before," he confessed. But after reflecting for a moment, Campbell came down with Crockett, because "he has his own statute across from the Alamo." But how would the Mountaineer fare against on the mascots on the football schedule? Mountainer matchups against:
Opponent Comment Edge Western Michigan's Bronco Ride 'em, horsey. Mountaineer Marshall's Thundering Herd Forget who wiped out the buffalo? Mountaineer Maryland's Terrapin The diamondback turtle is not as good as cooter, but edible nonetheless. Mountaineer East Carolina's Pirate Rifle verses sword? Mountaineer Syracuse Orange Peel 'em. Mountaineer Rutgers Scarlet Knights Scarlet? Mountaineer Louisville Cardinals Small, but tasty. Mountaineer Cincinnati Bearcats No match for a 45. Mountaineer Pitt Panther A formidable prey, unless it is a night game, where the cat may have an edge. Draw USF Bull Two words; Mountain Oysters. Mountaineer