Barry McNamara  |  Published January 11, 2023

Pio Nears the Finish Line

M Club Hall of Famer authors second book on NCAA nicknames and mascots.

MONMOUTH, Ill. – Former Monmouth College coach and sports information director Chris Pio ’84 of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is now two-thirds of the way through a project of writing about the nicknames and mascots of colleges and universities in the three divisions of the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

NO. 2 ON D2: After tackling Division III with his first book, Pio turned to a less familiar topic... NO. 2 ON D2: After tackling Division III with his first book, Pio turned to a less familiar topic for his second.Pio recently completed Gorillas, Gators and Greyhounds: The NCAA Division II Nickname and Mascot Menagerie. The book followed by one year his debut text, Gryphons, Gorloks & Gusties: A History of NCAA Division III Nicknames and Mascots.

“The reception to (Gryphons, Gorloks & Gusties) really gave me the encouragement and energy to continue on with my project goal,” said Pio. “If that one would’ve fizzled, I don’t know if I would have had much initiative to do the second one.”

His brother, Chad Pio, a professional graphic designer, created the cover for both books, which are available at Amazon.com.

Two-thirds is also the rough ratio of the 300-plus DII nicknames connected with animals. Pio chose to acknowledge that tendency in his title, giving first mention to the nickname of his brother’s alma mater, Pittsburg State University in Kansas, one of the few DII schools he was familiar with before starting the 263-page project.

“I researched the origin of ‘The Fighting Scots’ – that was the first nickname that I researched. It just kind of took off from there, and the idea rattled around in my head for quite a while. Finally, a few years ago, I had the time and the opportunity to start putting some thoughts down on paper.” Chris Pio


Through his research, Pio learned that the school chose its nickname for an unexpected reason.

“They’re the gorillas not because of the animal, but they had a spirit group – a pep group – on campus in the 1920s, and back then, Prohibition times, a gorilla was a slang term for a rowdy individual,” said Pio. “Their pep group was called ‘The Gorillas,’ and that became their (teams’) nickname. … Their football stadium is known as ‘The Jungle’ because of the gorilla theme.”

CHRIS PIO: Shortly after publishing his Division II book, the former Fighting Scot athlete, coach... CHRIS PIO: Shortly after publishing his Division II book, the former Fighting Scot athlete, coach and SID was inducted into the m Club Hall of Fame.That’s just one of the 302 stories in Pio’s book, which has taken him on what he called “a fascinating journey.” He’s learned about the Javelinas of Texas A&M University-Kingsville – a wild pig, not the instrument thrown by track and field athletes – the Ichabods of Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas, and the Nanooks of the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. The nickname at the latter school is simply a native word meaning “polar bear.”

“It’s been a fascinating journey reading about mascots and nicknames,” said Pio. “It started when I was in college as a student-athlete but more so, it really started to take off when I was the SID there. I researched the origin of ‘The Fighting Scots’ – that was the first nickname that I researched. It just kind of took off from there, and the idea rattled around in my head for quite a while. Finally, a few years ago, I had the time and the opportunity to start putting some thoughts down on paper.”

Pio will have more thoughts down on paper in the coming months as he works to complete a book on Division I nicknames and mascots by this summer. Up next, he hopes, will be research into National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) schools, as well as community colleges.

Pio replied “Maybe,” when asked if he would then tackle high school nicknames around the country. Should he do so, he could always start right in Monmouth with the Zippers of the old Monmouth High School.

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