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The Bears

May 1, 2014

With the opening of McLane Stadium this fall, Baylor University will continue many long-held traditions, adapt some, and perhaps see the development of new ones; however, one cherished tradition will observe its 100th anniversary—that of the bear as the University’s mascot.

During its first seven decades of existence, Baylor was not closely identified with any animal or other entity serving as a mascot. When the University began taking part in intercollegiate football contests in 1899, some newspapers informally referred to Baylor’s team as the Bulldogs or “the Baptists.”

meet_bearsMeet the Bears

After cheering for mascot-less athletic teams, Baylor students and alumni decided it was time for a change. During chapel on Oct. 2, 1914, former student George Baines Rosborough—a great-
grandson of George W. Baines, the third president of Baylor—
proposed a contest to come up with a mascot “around which to wreathe the sentiment of the school in poems and songs and yells, and in college customs which add so much to college life.”

To spur competition, Rosborough promised to award the winner a $5 gold piece. Nearly 24 entries were received by the contest’s Dec. 9 deadline. The subsequent vote among the student body resulted in the announcement Dec. 12, 1914, of the bear as the winner, having garnered 206 of the 406 ballots cast. The buffalo was the second-most popular choice.

Doyle Thrailkill

Freshman Doyle Thrailkill had nominated the bear, and she received the $5 gold piece as her reward. The San Antonio coed announced that she intended to “make the university a present of a real, live specimen” of a bear; however, it would be a few years before a live bear appeared.

The creation of Camp MacArthur in 1917 brought thousands of U.S. Army troops into Waco to prepare for combat in World War I. Members of the 107th Engineers of the Army’s 32nd Division were stationed at the camp, and they acquired a live bear as a mascot.

When the Baylor Bears played Texas A&M in football on Nov. 10, 1917, at Waco’s Cotton Palace grounds, members of the 107th Engineers decided to put their bear in a truck, take him to the football stadium and parade him around—the first time a live bear attended a Baylor event.

The bear was taken back to the camp. The 107th Engineers received orders on Jan. 13, 1918, to depart from Waco, and they decided to donate their furry pal to Baylor. The bear, referred to as both Ted and Bruin, was kept in the small zoo on the Cotton Palace grounds and brought out occasionally for Baylor events.

During the next 14, years a succession of live bears served as Baylor mascots, some given to the University by alumni. A few were housed at the zoo or elsewhere in Waco, while others made their home on campus—either chained to trees outdoors or kept inside a pen along the bank of Waco Creek near Carroll Field.

The bear that might be called Baylor’s first superstar mascot was named Joe College, and he arrived at the University as a casualty of the Great Depression.

In 1932, financial problems forced the owners of the Cotton Palace to close the facility. A bear housed at the facility, a 200-pounder who had begun his life performing in an animal show, ended up in the possession of Baylor student Bill Boyd on May 18, 1932, and soon was living in the back yard of Boyd’s house near campus. Named Joe College, he was formally introduced to the student body at the first home football game in 1932.

Joe College quickly settled into life at Baylor. Boyd would take him on regular walks around campus, and the bear was so gentle and calm that students were able to pet him. The friendly bear, as the late Baylor history author Tommy Turner once noted, had personality to spare.

“(Joe College) was sleek and handsome, playful and entertaining. He could wrestle and box, safely,” Turner once wrote. “Tame and well-trained, he was a natural ham. … Nothing fazed him. He loved parades, bands, kids and attention. He was, someone said, just like a huge dog. He often went swimming in the river with students.”

To feed Joe, Boyd sought donations from local grocery stores and restaurants as well as from student dining halls on campus, and the bear’s weight grew to about 500 pounds. When it became inconvenient to keep the large bear in Boyd’s backyard, members of the Baylor Chamber of Commerce offered to build a place for Joe on campus, one of a number of acts which began the long tradition of the Chamber feeding and caring for Baylor’s mascots.

Joe College was the first bear to learn a trick that would be taught to many succeeding Baylor mascots—drinking soda pop out of a bottle. Boyd would give Joe a bottle of Dr Pepper to drink, but the bear would empty out the opened bottle in seconds. Boyd eventually learned to leave the bottle capped with a hole punched in the top, extending the Dr Pepper drinking time to a much more crowd-pleasing 10 minutes. (The bears are no longer given soft drinks, for health reasons.)

When Baylor fans traveled to sporting events out of town, Joe College often went along, transported in an automobile or a train’s baggage car. During a parade in downtown Fort Worth prior to the 1932 TCU game, Joe spotted a drugstore with a soda fountain and crashed through its front window, trying to get one of the ice cream cones; he had grown fond of the delicacy at Baylor Drug near campus.

Two years later, Joe joined hundreds of Baylor supporters in marching up Congress Avenue in Austin prior to the football game against Texas. The group entered the State Capitol building, where the bear and the Baylor band were invited inside the Texas Senate chamber to perform for legislators.

By 1940, age was beginning to slow down Joe College, and he was retired from active mascot duty. After the beloved bear died in 1943, Boyd had Joe’s head and shoulders mounted, and for many years the beloved bear looked out at Baylor fans from above the scoreboard in Rena Marrs McLean Gymnasium.

“He was quite a bear,” Boyd said years after Joe College’s death. “We never once had to put a muzzle on him. He had such a gentle nature.”

The Bentsen brothers of Texas (father and uncle to Lloyd Bentsen, Texas’ U.S. senator from 1971-1993) donated Joe College’s successor, named Little Joe, to Baylor in 1940. Little Joe proved to be a bit wild; the most notorious example being the time he escaped and scattered a group of sunbathing coeds. “Their screaming departures, while clutching swimsuits, echoed throughout the Baylor campus,” one account reported.

Around the time of Little Joe’s arrival, the Baylor Chamber of Commerce assumed full responsibility for the training and care of the bear mascots. The Chamber selects students each year to become bear trainers, and the ranks have included notables such as former Texas State Sen. Kip Averitt. Before 1972, all bear trainers were men, but in that year Houston freshman Claire Cordell was chosen by the Chamber to become Baylor’s first female trainer. “Tradition is great, but there is a time for change,” she said at the time. “I couldn’t see any reason if they’re gonna get new bears why I couldn’t play with them, too.”

The Baylor Chamber led the fundraising drive to help build the first modern home for the bears, the “Bear Pit,” which was dedicated May 19, 1945. Located along the banks of Waco Creek along what is today know as M.P. Daniel Esplanade, it contained a swimming pool and areas for walking and climbing.

The mascots’ living quarters received at least four major renovations over the next 30 years. The Bear Pit was demolished to make room for the Steve Hudson Bear Plaza, dedicated at Homecoming in 1977. The Hudson family provided the lead gift in honor of their son who died while he was a Baylor student. Three times larger than the previous mascot facility, it featured a waterfall and AstroTurf.

The Bill and Eva Williams Bear Habitat, dedicated at Homecoming in 2005 and named for the family that provided the lead gift, stands on the site of Hudson Plaza. The mascots’ home now provides natural landscaping with areas for roaming and enrichment play by the animals. An educational area provides information about the North American black bear.

The Williams Habitat continues to draw thousands of visitors who come to see Judges Joy and Lady, the current Baylor mascots. Joy came to Baylor in 2001, and Lady arrived the following year. The two biological sisters, who frequently play together, will serve the University throughout their lifetimes.

More than 50 bears have served as Baylor mascots, and the names chosen for them have ranged from informal to dignified. Many mascots have been twins or part of a pair, with corresponding names tied to catchphrases or popular characters. These duos have included Topsy and Turvy, Ruff and Tuff, Rip and Tear, Nip and Tuck, Rusty and Dusty, Barney and Bailey, Countess and Duchess, Samson and Delilah, Abner and Daisy Mae and Linus and Lucy.

One bear mascot was given the name of a Biblical hero, John the Baptist, while Judge Pepper recognized Baylor’s official soft drink, Dr Pepper.

Other mascot names have honored people in Baylor history, such as Baylor presidents (Rufus Burleson, Samuel Palmer Brooks and Abner McCall), first ladies (Joy Reynolds and Sue Sloan), administrators (Virginia Crump), professors (Robert Reid), donors (Zachariah Bobo) and notable graduates (Grady Nutt).

Fittingly, the trainer and companion of legendary mascot Joe College, Bill Boyd, also had a bear mascot named in his honor shortly before his death in 1987.

In the mid-1970s, Baylor began the tradition of using the term “Judge” as a prefix to the formal name of all bear mascots. The title is in recognition of the Judge R.E.B. Baylor, a founder of the University.

Almost since the time that colleges and universities began keeping live animal mascots, students from rival schools have attempted to kidnap or redecorate those mascots in the name of good-natured rivalry. Baylor history has many examples of such escapades.

One mascot, Pancho, seemed to have a special talent for attracting kidnappers, with poor Pancho as the target of two kidnappings in 1955. In October, he disappeared before the football game against the Aggies, and he was found the next day with “A&M” painted on his sides. In November just before the Texas game, Pancho’s cage was broken open, and the well-traveled bear was found four days later tied to a tree in Oakwood Cemetery. He apparently spent his vacation from campus as the guest of a Longhorn fraternity.

Not every attempt to kidnap a Baylor mascot succeeded. In 1945, word spread around campus that University of Texas students were trying to steal mascot Josephine, but Baylor students were able to rush to the bear’s rescue and capture six Longhorns.

The next year, Baylor students were proactive and determined not to let any Aggies steal their new mascot, Chita. They took the bear downtown to the Waco police station before the A&M game and had Chita kept safe at night behind lock and key.

Most Baylor mascot kidnappings resulted in nothing more than fun and a bit of suspense, but one ended in tragedy. In the early morning of Nov. 10, 1961, University of Texas students took Ginger from her home in the Bear Pit. As they were leading her across campus, one of the UT students became entangled in Ginger’s rope and panicked, hitting the bear in the head with a wrench and killing her.

When the culprits were discovered, they apologized to Baylor and were suspended by UT officials. Ginger was remembered with a special memorial service in Waco, and Longhorn students raised the funds to repair the Bear Pit and buy Baylor its next mascot.

Baylor mascots also have interacted with members of rival schools at football games, where the bears haven’t always been able to stay out of the action.

Joe College once stretched out his paw across the playing field and tripped a Longhorn runner. During the season opener with Wake Forest in 1952, Topsy brought the crowd to laughter when he ran out onto the field and made off with the flag that had been thrown by the head linesman.

At the 1954 Texas game in Waco, Longhorn students paraded a 30-foot banner with the words “Ruin the Bruin” in front of the Baylor student section. Mascots Nip and Tuck no doubt took offense. They proceeded to break loose from their trainers and tear the banner to shreds.

After seeing live bears having so much fun boosting Baylor spirit as mascots and game-day trends growing, perhaps it was inevitable that two-legged bruin impersonators would want to get in on the act.

The first human being to don a bear suit and act as a mascot for a Baylor football game, albeit in a non-official capacity, might have been student Jim Bowman in 1968. Bowman wore a rented full-body bear suit in that year’s Homecoming parade, and he liked the outfit so much he wore it on the sidelines at the remaining games.

In 1984, Andy Spencer, a business student from Corpus Christi, began voluntarily performing at football games wearing a Baylor jersey over a bear costume. Although Wendy’s restaurants initially sponsored Spencer’s appearance, the costumed bear soon became an official Baylor bear under the auspices of the University, with Spencer as the first two-legged Baylor mascot.

Spencer went on to win first place at a national mascot competition in 1986, and he wore the Baylor bear costume in a slalom ski race in Colorado against 35 other university mascots in 1987, placing 13th. He has since donated the original Baylor bear suit to the Texas Sports Hall of Fame.

In 1997, Baylor asked students to choose the name of the green-furred mascot introduced that year, and “Bruiser” was the clear winner. While the design and coloring of the mascot suit has changed, the popular bear that appears at football games and other Baylor functions has continued to be known as Bruiser. In 2005, Bruiser was one of 12 costumed mascots named to the All-America Mascot Team sponsored by Capital One.

As Baylor celebrates the centennial of its bear mascot, Dr. Eugene Baker, retired Baylor University historian, is working on a new book to spotlight the colorful history of the bears. He previously prepared the book Here Come the Bears: The Story of the Baylor University Mascots in 1996.

Being a Baylor Bear mascot requires serious commitment, given all of the appearances that Bruiser makes throughout the year. That is why mascot duties are divvied up among four students, each with his or her own costume: Scott Beckwith, a senior marketing major from Dallas; Mark Murphy, a senior marketing and media business major from Houston; Brandon Manuppelli, a junior accounting major from San Antonio; and Kelsey Taylor, a sophomore speech pathology major from Abilene, Texas.

Bruiser appears at the vast majority of Baylor sporting events. One student estimated making approximately four appearances per week, and another estimated that he makes 50 total appearances in a year.

The mascots usually appear one at a time except for special events such as Homecoming and Family Weekend. Bruiser often appears at community events, parades, birthday parties and the occassional wedding.

With hundreds or thousands of fans observing Bruiser, the mascots always keep moving, never talk in costume, and keep their skin covered at all times. The mascots try to keep Bruiser’s movements uniform so that his performances and signature moves are always consistent.

In preparation for performing these duties, the students attend a training camp in the summer and have 6:30 a.m. workouts twice per week during the fall semester. The hardest part is staying fit and hydrated enough to endure the high temperatures inside the suit, which is often at least 20 degrees higher than ambient temperatures.

Still, the mascots say it is extremely rewarding to represent Baylor and interact with fans, both young and young at heart.

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