ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
For some college basketball fans, just having a team that makes the NCAA tournament is something to cheer about. Well, for fans of Austin Peay State University in Tennessee, though, that cheer might generate some snickering. Blake Farmer of member station WPLN reports on one of the most memorable chants in college sports.
UNIDENTIFIED CHEERLEADERS: (Chanting) Let's go Peay. Let's go Peay.
BLAKE FARMER, BYLINE: Are those cheerleaders saying, let's go Peay? Yes, yes, they are. The fans start softly and build.
KIERNEY FOSTER: (Chanting) Let's go Peay. Let's go Peay.
UNIDENTIFIED GIRLS: (Chanting) Let's go Peay. Let's go Peay.
FARMER: That's sophomore Kierney Foster and two friends showing how it's done. The first time Foster heard the wordplay was at orientation. It was a little weird.
FOSTER: The man shouted out. He was like, let's go Peay, and then he was like, everyone let's go to the restroom. I was like (laughter) - but I got used to it.
FARMER: The school's namesake was a Tennessee governor who died in office in 1927. Austin Peay, spelled P-E-A-Y, may be best known for his role in banning the teaching of evolution in schools, leading to the famous Scopes Monkey Trial. Over time, the school has fully embraced its surname with a wink.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Let's go Peay.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: Let's go Peay.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Let's go Peay.
FARMER: That's from a commercial produced by the university. This is not some underground chant against the wishes of stuffy administrators. The slogan is on banners all over campus. The bookstore's full of T-shirts. Letsgopeay.com is the athletics website. Basketball head coach Dave Loos says it's no longer a joke.
DAVE LOOS: Sometimes people will make light of that, but you know, it's pretty serious to people around here. That's for sure.
FARMER: Loos says there's pride in the chant and power, says senior guard Khalil Davis.
KHALIL DAVIS: We could even be down 10, but right when we hear let's go Peay from our crowd, it just, you know, turns us all up because we know that that let's go Peay lets us know that the crowd is still on our side no matter how much we're down.
FARMER: 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 postseason 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.
JAMES FLY WILLIAMS: You should know me. I'm James Fly Williams, the one that put Austin Peay on the map (laughter).
FARMER: I tracked down Fly Williams in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he helps run a youth rec center. He was a street baller known for his stylish clothes who was recruited to play in Tennessee. The combination of fly and Peay opened a world of possibilities.
WILLIAMS: They used to say the fly's open, let's go Peay. We're going to Peay on you. We're going to Peay on you.
FARMER: Austin Peay went to the NCAA tournament both years Williams was wowing the crowds. This week, he says he'll put the game on the TV at his rec center, but he's not sure it's a good idea to teach the kids about his alma mater's infamous cheer. For NPR News, I'm Blake Farmer in Nashville. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.