The University of Cincinnati paused on Oct. 31, 2014, to remember 100 years as the Bearcats, the historic name that was born during a UC football game in 1914.
Hundreds turned out for the Bearcats Centennial celebration in front of Tangeman University Center. Special guest speakers included Leonard Robinson, the grandson of football star Leonard "Teddy" Baehr, from whom the Bearcats (Baehr-Cats) took their name; UC President Santa Ono; Tom Humes, UC Board of Trustees Chair and Student Government Vice President Shivam Shah. The official ceremony ended with the UC band leading the crowd in singing "Happy Birthday" to the Bearcat.
The party included cake and cookies, Bearcats Centennial lapel pins and cups, plus plenty of photo ops with the Bearcat mascot as well as Lucy, the binturong from the Cincinnati Zoo. President Ono announced a brand new Bearcats Mascot Fund that will help with mascot expenses including upkeep of the suit, travel and scholarship assistance for students who bring the Bearcat to life every day. Humes, who once wore the mascot suit, kicked off the fund with a $1,000 donation. Visit UCATS or Call 877-55-UCATS to make a donation.
Bearcats Centennial event photos by Lisa Ventre/UC Creative Services
Click any image to enlarge
Bearcats name reaches back to 1914
The University of Cincinnati Bearcats name officially turned 100 years old at the end of October, 2014.
The moniker was born on Oct. 31, 1914, during a home football game against the Kentucky Wildcats. Up until then, UC had no real nickname or mascot, and the teams were known more generically by such references as the “Cincinnati Eleven,” the “Varsity” or the “Red & Black.”
The fall of 1914 was part of the leather-helmet era of college football, and construction had not yet even started on the brick and concrete structure that would become UC’s Nippert Stadium. Still, a sizeable crowd had packed into the wooden stands to the west of Cincinnati’s Carson Field, yet, one player’s shout rang out loud enough to inspire both a cheer and, ultimately, the team’s very name.
Hungry for a win and frustrated that UC was struggling against their interstate foe, team captain and charismatic UC fullback Leonard “Teddy” Baehr (pictured carrying the ball above) was said to have shouted at his teammates to give him the ball.
The utterance elicited an excited roar from the crowd and a moment of genius from cheerleader Norman “Pat” Lyon, who followed with a chant: “They may be Wildcats, but we have a Baehr-cat on our side!” The crowd took up the rallying cry: “Come on, Baehr-cat!”
Cincinnati prevailed, 14-7, and the victory was memorialized on the front page of the student newspaper, the weekly University News, on Nov. 3, 1914, when cartoonist John “Paddy” Reece’s drawing (seen here) depicted a bedraggled Kentucky Wildcat being chased by a creature labeled “Cincinnati Bear Cats.”
"Teddy" Baehr graduated in 1916, and the Bearcat nickname dropped out of use — at least in print — for a few years.
On Nov. 15, 1919, UC met Tennessee in Knoxville, and the Cincinnati Enquirer sent Jack Ryder to cover the event. Ryder's dispatch on UC's losing game, published on Nov. 16, 1919, was the first time the major media called UC's team the Bearcats.
"The Bear Cats repeatedly threatened to come from behind," Ryder wrote, and "the Bear Cats had been very strong favorites for the victory." From that day, UC teams were regularly called the Bearcats, and cartoon Bearcats filled the student newspaper and yearbook.
Concerning his namesake
Teddy Baehr lived a long and successful life until he passed away in 1979 at age 86. After UC, he and UC cartoonist Reece remained friends and served together in the Ohio National Guard Cavalry under General Pershing along the Mexican border. During World War I, Baehr rose to captain status and fought in both the battle of Argonne and St. Mihiel. After the war, he had a successful career as the owner of Excelsior Laundry Company in Cincinnati until he sold the business and retired to his home in Loveland, Ohio, in 1958.
"My father was a kind person and a charismatic fella," said his daughter Betsy Baehr Pierson. "The Bearcats name is a great legacy in our family. Dad never talked about it much, but he loved talking about playing football and what a rough and tumble sport it was."
The Bearcat through the years
When Paddy Reece drew his bearcat for the campus newspaper in 1914, he wasn’t really thinking ahead to the future mascot. He just wanted a play on words for Teddy Baehr in UC’s football battle against the University of Kentucky’s Wildcats. Of course, the result was a “bear-cat”, a term already familiar to many Americans from Tin Pan Alley music and an automobile.
There was no concerted effort to portray the Bearcat in the years following Reece’s cartoon, so the idea of what a Bearcat should look like was rather nebulous. It should, of course, be somewhat ferocious since it did have the word ”bear” in it. And that is exactly how the image began. In 1922, UC’s Bearcat was indeed a bear, rearing up on its hind legs with a snarl on its face and a giant “C” behind it. The bear incarnation of the Bearcat was in place for several years, even to the point of using a live bear cub mascot from the Cincinnati Zoo. By the close of World War II, however, the notion of what the Bearcat should look like changed dramatically, and there was a change from a very real-looking animal to a cartoon of a squat growling bear with long claws and whiskers.
By the 1950s when a select student began dressing as a mascot for football and basketball games as well as campus events, the costume featured a Bearcat in a fan-friendly mask with a smile on its face. No longer fierce and dangerous, the Bearcat was now tame and just “one of the guys.” The campus yearbook, The Cincinnatian, carried cartoons of this new Bearcat that variously showed it in student and professorial surroundings. By the end of the decade, more cat-like aspects were added to the Bearcat, but it was still smiling and accommodating, even as Oscar Robertson and the basketball team were tearing apart opponents on the hardwood, much as if their opponents were caught in the woods – by a bear.
While UC has had a Bearcat since 1914, it wasn’t until decades later that the mascot was joined by a distaff partner. Particularly in the 1970s, a Miss Bearcat mascot joined her partner on the sidelines at football and basketball games. Along with the athletic contests, the two Bearcats also participated in community events and rallies, most notably when the University of Cincinnati was moving from being a municipal university to a full designation as a state university in Ohio.The two mascots assisted UC president Warren Bennis on Fountain Square, at public forums, and in parades to present the necessity of the change. Miss Bearcat was somewhat shorter than her male counterpart and had a hair bow between her ears.
By the 1980s, the Bearcat, with even more feline features, had the snarl return, and for the first time, a binturong from the zoo was leashed around at games. In the years since and up to today, there was recognition that UC needed three renditions of the mascot, one that was used for a student costume and emphasized both “bear” and “cat” characteristics, and a second cartoon image that was on first glance rather growly but then came off as an angry kitten. This image was geared to children and souvenir sales. And the third was the C-paw, again representing the competitive nature of the sports teams.
In the modern era, the Bearcat statue on campus embodies the binturong, the bear and a growl. All three manifestations have come to singularly identify the Bearcat as a key symbol of the University of Cincinnati.
Bringing the Bearcat to life
Over the last several decades, only a select number of UC students can claim the rare experience of having brought to life UC's man-size Bearcat uniform. Here we explore the view from inside the giant head by chasing down a few tales in the very words of those who trolled the sidelines of the University of Cincinnati as the Bearcat.
"I actually had to interview to be the bear. I was shocked to be selected. When you are in that costume, I guess you take on a different persona. But I just loved to see people smile, and the bear always brought smiles for people of all ages. It is probably the best job I've ever had. I was only 21 years old, but it was the greatest job I ever had." — Thomas Humes, Jr., Bus '71, A&S '77
"Talking is definitely off limits. That's the main rule. As far as everything else is concerned, it is more like, 'Do now and ask later. The chair slide (in Fifth Third Arena) can be kind of dangerous if you don't know what you are doing." "When you first do it, it is pretty terrifying actually. There is a little bit of technique to keeping your weight forward, but you basically just sit down and go and let the railing at the bottom stop you." — Matt Silverstein, Bus '10
"I was the first female bearcat, during the 1975-76 school year. I performed with a big red bow on my costume, and was at every home football game, Homecoming and most of the basketball games. That year, the basketball team went to Lawrence, Kan., for the NCAA quarterfinals! I loved being the girl bearcat, and I talk about that experience to this day!" — Debbie Nadler Friedman, Bus '76
"It was very hot one early September day for a UC football game. It was over 100 degrees on the field. One of my colleagues was working the suit that day, while I was in the stands sitting with friends. It's important to realize how different the suit was in those days than now. It had a heavy fiberglass head of a different design, and the body was made of a very heavy fur like substance. It reeked. My mother may have been the only one who ever laundered it. So the bearcat went on with his usual antics, working up quite a lather in the suit. Halfway through the second quarter, he passes out. So of course, they are frantically looking into the stands for a replacement. I'm trying to hide. No way I want to get in that suit now. My friends, of course, had the opposite response. They were gleefully pointing me out as the other mascot available. I couldn't very well say 'no' once I was found, so I climbed into the suit, swimming in another's sweat. My gag reflexes were working overtime. But after about 10 minutes I got used to it and went out and finished the game. But as a penalty to my friends, I went into the stands to hug and kiss and share with them. A fond memory." — Donald Poynter, DAAP '78
"When I was the mascot, the Bearcat was more cute and cuddly. The new one is more aggressive, but my opinion of the Bearcat was that he was more of a lover than a fighter. And I played that role up pretty well. The funniest thing was when you would find a really cute girl. You could steal her away, then watch the boyfriend get all fuming mad. That would always crack me up. There was just an electrifying feel to being down on the field." — Steve Trepkowski, CCM '05.
"While at a Navy game, a group of Midshipmen asked, 'Do you mind if we pass you up?' I said, 'What are you talking about?' They said, 'Well, you just lay out, and we'll pass you up.' So I went over there and laid down, and they passed me up and down the crowd. You could do numerous things on the field that you would never do if you weren't dressed as though people couldn't see you. I'd get in with the band and the majorette, then create a little havoc during the halftime shows. It was an absolute blast." — Alfred Behrens, Bus '57
"It was great fun. I'd run up and down the stands, and if there was a bald man, I'd pat him on the head and sit in his lap. I'd just tease the people a bit. I can remember hearing people say, 'I think the Bearcat is a girl. Boys don't run like that. Whenever I'm in a group and they ask, 'What does the group not know about you?' I say, 'I was the Bearcat at the University of Cincinnati.'" — Pat Stromberg, Ed '54
"We had two Bearcats in the late '70s. I was the girl Bearcat mascot in 1976-77 that got married to the guy mascot for Homecoming at the student union bridge at noon. The cheerleaders were the bridesmaids, and the captain gave me away. A law professor performed the ceremony, and a reception was held that evening for all the university to attend at a big dance. I have pictures from the event, and it was huge news. The union clock chimes rang at 12:00 to start the procession over the bridge and many students were witnesses. It was history making!" — Denise Gardonio, Ed '77
Bearcat binturong trivia
Q: What's the name of the binturong from the Cincinnati Zoo that often comes to UC games?
A: Lucy. Lucy was born in 2008. Prior to Lucy, the zoo's binturong was named Alice, and before Alice was Bo.
Q: What is Lucy's favorite thing to eat?
A: According to her trainer, Eddie Annal, Lucy loves bananas and hard boiled eggs. But she is considered an omnivore, meaning she eats food of both plant and animal origin.
Q: How often does Lucy get to leave the zoo?
A: Lucy takes 70 to 80 trips out a year, and most of them are to UC for athletics games, special events and even weddings.
Q: Why are Lucy's whiskers important?
A: Like many nocturnal mammals, the bearcat has whiskers to feel its way around or find food in the dark. Spending most of its time in the trees of Southeast Asia, it slowly and skillfully walks along branches at night while foraging for fruit and small animals.
Make-up and wig design student Una Lin models as College Conservatory of Music assistant professor Kelly Yurko transforms her into a Bearcat.
Printable Bearcat Coloring Pages
Click to download PDF
Content developed from various publications, articles and collections across campus including:
- "The UC Bearcat," Archives and Rare Books Library, Kevin Grace
- "History of the UC Bearcat," Greg Hand
- "Secrets from inside the Bearcat suit," UC Magazine, John Bach
- "Timeline of athletics logos," UC Magazine
- "UC welcomes Bearcat statue to campus," UC Magazine, Jayna Barker
- "Alice the Bearcat," UC Magazine
- "Bearcat (binturong)," Cincinnati Zoo
- "Teddy Baehr — The Original UC Bearcat," Betsy Baehr Pierson
- "Cincinnatian" yearbooks
- The News Record student newspaper archives
- Read more about UC athletics at GoBearcats.com
This commemorative website to celebrate the centennial of the name Bearcats was funded by UC's division of Governmental Relations and University Communications.
- Project Director: John Bach
- Web Development: Ben Stockwell
- Research & Writing: John Bach, M.B. Reilly, Kevin Grace
- Photography: Lisa Ventre, UC Archives
- Video Production: Ashley Kempher, Jay Yocis, Ben Gardner
- Design: Dawn High and Kerry Overstake
- Marty Ludwig, Jeremy Martin, Angela Klocke, Shivam Shah, Barbara Blum