Selected portions from https://eiupanthers.com
Like many colleges and universities across the country, the nickname for Eastern Illinois intercollegiate teams was something that was developed after the start of intercollegiate athletics at that school. At EIU the name Panthers has not always been around, but it does date back to the 1930s.
For many years the school colors, Blue and Gray, were used to describe the school's sport teams.
The circumstances and exact date of the derivation of Panthers can be pinpointed, although the reason why that particular 'tag' was chosen is still uncertain.
Back in 1930, the Teachers College News, forerunner of the Eastern News, decided it would be appropriate and more handy to have an official nickname.
So in conjunction with the Fox Lincoln Theatre, $5 worth of tickets was offered to the winner of a contest to "name" Eastern's athletic teams.
Athletic director and football coach Charles "Pop" Lantz, football captain Gene Kintz and News sports editor Irvin Singler were chosen to select the winning entry. Several nicknames were submitted, although the exact number is not available, and on October 16, 1930, the News announced Panthers as the winner.
Harland Baird, Paul Birthisel and Thelma Brooks all submitted the winning nickname and split the prize.
Gilbert Twist of the Decatur Review said, "Panthers is an appropriate one for this team and is one that has not been used much over the country."
Although not unique to Eastern Illinois, 29 colleges and universities currently use Panthers as their athletic mascot, a number that has grown from seven schools when the mascot was selected.
The current name for EIU's mascot is Billy the Panther, a nickname of the former Panther mascot in the early 1980s and 1990s that was never officially adopted by the University. The current Billy the Panther made his debut on Sept. 13, 2008 prior to the Eastern Illinois football game versus Indiana State.