Not long ago, someone asked me about the origin of the Tupelo High School Golden Wave mascot and if the team had ever been called the Tupelo Tornadoes. No to the second question. Then I turned to two sources for the answer to the first question: Dale Dobbs and the late Phyllis Harper.
Coach Dobbs has a bevy of facts about Tupelo High School football in his book, “Tupelo High School Chronicles, 1913-2018, Records, Rosters, Notes,” which was published last year. According to him, the first high school football team fielded in the All-America City was 1913. In his book he says, Tupelo played games with West Alabama AHS of Hamilton, Ala., and with the Tupelo Military Institute. Tupelo lost the TMI game 6-0, but Dobbs says there is no record of THS and TMI playing each other again “probably because of the brawl that immediately followed the TMI victory,” he writes.
It doesn’t appear that Tupelo had much for uniforms or a mascot those early years. In 1922, the high school football mascot was listed as the Bullets. That year, the team under the guidance of Coach Pat Wilson went 9-0. The team played its games at the Tupelo Fairgrounds.
The other day, I asked Coach Dobbs the location of the football field. It was a pretty nice stadium for those days, he said, located in what is now Fairpark on the south side of City Hall, just about where the housing exists now and to the west. In 1922, the Bullets were the State Champions. THS had won the state title in 1916, 1919, and 1921. The colors of these championship teams were purple and gold.
In 1927, THS changed its mascot to the Tigers and was under the direction of Willie B. Saunders, his only year at the helm, according to Dobbs’ book. The next season Saunders took a job at Columbus High School and stayed for years. The downtown football field at the Magnolia Bowl is named for him. The next year, under the tutelage of Calvin Long, the Tigers played at Robins Field.
Back to the Bullets mascot in 1929, THS posted an 8-0 record and was declared the Northeast Mississippi Champions. This team played its games at Robins Field, but in 1930, the first year the team had the present-day mascot of Golden Wave, THS practiced at Robins Field and played its home games at the fairgrounds. This 1930s team was the first time the players had “real uniforms,” Dobbs said, and the colors changed to blue and gold.
But how did the Golden Wave come to be? Dobbs said he had been told because of the uniforms. Yet, in a column written for the Daily Journal on Dec. 8, 1996, columnist Phyllis Harper wrote that the mascot was the result of a contest out of the Hi-Life, the Tupelo High School student newspaper. She said she received the publication from Clark Strain, who loaned her the January 1930 edition that announced the new name of the high school mascot.
Tupelo High School has a long and successful athletic history – something all of those who have attended should be proud of, no matter the sport. And, if you are interested in more on the history of THS football, I highly recommend Coach Dobbs’ book. We have it right here at the Oren Dunn City Museum for $10. All the proceeds go back to the high school. “I did it as a donation,” he said.