By Katie Wynn
It’s a cool fall Saturday at NC State University as the East Carolina University Pirates take on the Wolfpack rivals for some college football. The year is 1981. However, the focus is not on the players, but rather the scene that’s unfolding. ECU’s beloved Pee Dee the Pirate puts on a show as he runs down the sidelines toward the ECU fans with the female NC State wolf mascot thrown over his shoulder. The Pirate fans erupt with laughter and cheers. This scene marks the eventful début of Pee Dee the Pirate, the official ECU mascot.
Mike Aman is president and founder of local Greenville business, One Source Communications. However, this alumnus from East Carolina University is best known as the original Pee Dee the Pirate. As Mike and his wife, Page, recount the memories of Pee Dee, his calm and collective demeanor deviates from the wildly hilarious adventures and crazy moments Aman brought out in Pee Dee.
“I liked being able to be uninhibited and act silly because nobody knew who I was,” said Aman. “You get to act crazy and take things to a whole new level.”
It was not until his first year in graduate school at ECU that Aman took to the fields and courts as the Pirate. He had spent the past three years of undergraduate school on the sidelines as a cheerleader. He noted that being a male cheerleader at that time was not very common, but was coaxed into trying out for the team from a friend who reminded Aman of all the cute girls who would also be trying out.
This ended up working to his advantage when he met his soon-to-be wife, Page, who also was a cheerleader on the team. Page was not only his best friend, but also cheer partner senior year, and if it were not for her, he wouldn’t have come back the summer after graduation.
“I became Pee Dee to stay at ECU with Page,” said Aman. “So I went back to grad school to get an MBA and got the call that summer to come back and be the first Pee Dee the Pirate. I was just in the right place at the right time.”
Aman remembers how Pee Dee wasn’t really accepted into the student body at first. Most of the universities at this time were turning towards the idea of mascots. The students at ECU were not too fond of Pee Dee in the beginning because they were upset that they did not get to take part in naming the mascot. There was a contest for elementary schools through which the children got to come up with the name.
“I remember times where I had to sneak past the student section to avoid them because they would throw chicken bones and liquor bottles at me from the stands,” says Aman laughingly. “It’s nice to know that I eventually won them over.”
Once the students came around to the idea of the mascot, they fell in love with it. The most important part about being Pee Dee to Aman was the idea of entertaining people, making them laugh and having fun with the kids. Little kids loved seeing Pee Dee slide down the floor like Superman and get the crowd pumped by stomping on the bleachers.
“Pee Dee is almost the symbol for the children and makes it more of a family event,” says wife, Page with a sparkle in her eye. “I remember in basketball he could stand at half court and make the shot in the Pee Dee costume and people would go crazy.”
Aman has a collection of tales to tell about being PeeDee. These moments include heat exhaustion at a football game, having an all out throw down with the UNCW Seahawk, and running out of gas while dressed in the Pee Dee costume headed back from a Christmas parade in Kinston.
The most difficult part to Aman was the heat of wearing the heavy costume. In the 1982 season, there was a game at halftime when Aman remembered walking inside and sitting down against the concrete wall of the locker room while escaping from the scorching heat. He remembered hearing the cleats on the ground as the coaches and players entered from the field. The team was down by a lot and Aman still remembers coach Ed Emory stopping dead in his tracks when passing Pee Dee and telling his players that if they would work half as hard as that Pirate did, they would be winning the game.
“I gave it all I got…even to the point of heat exhaustion,” Aman chuckled. “I was the original and wanted to make it fun for everyone.”
Being Pee Dee became almost a full time job for Aman. There was always something to do and it was difficult being the only person taking on the mascot job. He had different events to attend including appearances and parades, and it really was challenging trying to balance that along with graduate school. After the heat exhaustion incident, Aman finished up the season and then ECU made the decision to have two people share the mascot role.
To Aman, Pee Dee stands for something bigger than just the university’s mascot, encompassing a fun environment for families and students all together. “I usually stay pretty connected with most of the Pee Dees,” says Aman. “It’s almost like a secret exclusive club among the people who have taken on the role.”