Watergate the Cockroach: The Story and Celebration of Tech’s Unlikely Champion

by Mikayla G. Wood, student

On October 18, 1986, a Tennessee Tech champion was crowned at Palm Beach Atlantic College (PBAU). The athlete had given his all, darting past all of his opponents and running towards the finish line. The underdog competitor from Tennessee Tech triumphed over his Floridian competitors. Unfortunately, the athlete did not have much time to celebrate his victory or receive honors at Tech; just seconds after crossing the finish line, a lizard devoured the athlete. The competitor was not a typical track athlete…the competitor was a cockroach.

Since 1982, PBAU annually holds the Great American Bug Race. The race is not for just any type of bug; it is for cockroach athletes. In 1986, PBAU sent out a press release regarding the bug race; it was this press release that sparked the interest of Tech’s Oracle staff. The students searched all over campus to find a suitable athlete to send to the race in Tech’s name. A mere thirty minutes before the deadline to send in a bug, the photo editor for The Oracle found a willing cockroach named Watergate in Miller Hall. The students put Watergate in a film canister, poked the necessary holes in the top of the canister so Watergate could get the oxygen he needed to be a healthy contender in the race, and then mailed the canister 800+ miles in a FedEx envelope.

Although Watergate’s life was brief following his victory, his legacy and fame was astonishing. Several newspaper articles were written about Watergate and his journey to the finish line (and shortly after, the lizard’s mouth). Articles were written all over the state of Tennessee; there was also an article written in a newspaper in Anderson, Indiana. In addition to the many articles celebrating Watergate, there was a large memorial service at Tech for Watergate held on October 28, 1986. Roughly 1,000 people attended the service for Watergate, many dressed in black to mourn the loss of a remarkable Tech athlete. President Wallace Prescott spoke at length about how Watergate served Tech well.  He felt Watergate should be remembered forever in Tech history and did this by declaring October 28 as Watergate Day at Tennessee Tech. Tech’s Alumni Association honored Watergate with the “Extinguished Alumni Award.” May you remember Watergate this October as not only a cockroach, but a unique and special part of Tennessee Tech history.

About University Archives

Archives and Special Collections resides in Angelo and Jennette Volpe Library on the first floor. The collection includes materials of legal, fiscal and historical significance to Tennessee Tech University and documents the history of the Upper Cumberland Region. The collection includes over 2,500 cubic feet of manuscripts, photographs, and archives from Tennessee Tech as well as surrounding people, businesses, and organizations of the Upper Cumberland. The collection contains books on the history and culture of the Upper Cumberland Region of Tennessee.
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