Shiver me timbers! Unicoi County High School students bringing back the ETSU Buc Ship


ERWIN, Tenn. (WJHL) – East Tennessee State University’s buccaneer is about to have a new ride.

Bucky (and students) boarded the original Buc Ship for university sports games, homecomings and other events in the 1980s and ’90s. That’s something that stuck with Mark Fleenor, an ETSU alumnus and current social studies teacher at Unicoi County High School.

“I can still remember the first day I saw a Buccaneer ship cross the minidome floor,” Fleenor said. “I thought that was so cool and so neat that a university had something that could market itself like that.”

Buc Ship I sails across the ETSU Mini Dome floor in an undated picture.

When ETSU brought back football in 2015, Fleenor and some other alumni thought it was the right to reintroduce Buc Ship back into ETSU waters.

But he said the search came up dry.

“We can’t find it,” he said. “No one I’ve been able to talk to in the Johnson City or regional area can figure out whatever happened to it.”

Fleenor said the original Buc Ship was built from a golf cart by ETSU alumni in Raleigh, North Carolina. He estimates it was in use for nearly two decades.

But that didn’t tamper his spirit. Buc Ship’s disappearance gave Fleenor another idea.

“I thought, ‘let’s try this again,'” he said. “We believe that if one door closes, another window opens somewhere, and a large window has opened for us to be able to bring back a fond memory of the area and something for our entire community especially here in Unicoi County where it’s going to be built.”

Over the past few weeks, Fleenor said students have been working to dismantle a truck donated by Grindstaff Ford of Elizabethton in the first few steps of transforming it into a ship.

A donation from Grindstaff Ford of Elizabethton later, Fleenor got permission from the Unicoi County Board of Education to enroll the help of the high school’s Career Technical Education students for the project. ‘

Work began a few weeks ago on the donated Dodge truck, which has been stripped down beyond recognition. Computer technology students provided some design drawings while industrial students wait in the wings to continue the project pending some repairs to the truck.

The tide didn’t stop with the CTE students though.

“We have students (…) from the business department to welding to the computers to maintenance and light repair, carpentry,” he listed. “This is what we call a PBL, project-based learning and we going to be building a ship as a community and sharing it with our county and region at large.”

This is a project for Unicoi County High School students to get hands-on learning. Fleenor said students have been involved from computer science to welding to business management classes.

The ship will serve as a vessel of memories in addition to standing as an ETSU symbol. Fleenor also said it could be used for educational purposes.

He called the project as a “peoples’ project” and views it as something Unicoi County and the surrounding region can be proud of.

“We’re going for donations as little as $25 up to as much as several thousand from people who would like to see the students of Unicoi County High School have this opportunity,” he said.

He estimates the ship will be completed by the end of next semester. He said progress can be tracked on the Buc Ship II Facebook page. Donations for the project can be mailed to:

Unicoi County HS
700 S. Mohawk Drive
Erwin, TN 37650

Fleenor said he will also be posting online donation instructions via the Buc Ship II Facebook page.

“BucShip will certainly be bigger and better than before,” he said.

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