September 21, 2011

Cornellians Push for Bear’s Place on Campus

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Touchdown, the Big Red Bear, is clawing into the spotlight as Cornellians on and off campus push for legitimization of Cornell’s much-loved, yet unofficial, mascot.

John Foote ’74, who wrote Touchdown: The Story of the Cornell Bear, wants to build a monument on campus to honor the original four Touchdowns — black bear cubs that were brought to Cornell beginning in 1915.

“I feel that the memory of Touchdown should have a more visible presence on campus,” said Foote, who is working with Joe Thanhauser ’71 to campaign for the monument. “Each of these bears had her own personality and adventures, but all were curious, mischievous and, in the Cornell mold, otherwise thinking.”

Foote said he hopes to unveil the statue on campus in 2015, the University’s sesquicentennial. That year is also the centennial of the first Touchdown bear — Touchdown I — and Cornell’s first national football championship, he said.

“A couple of us thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be a fun idea as part of the many celebrations that are going on [in 2015] to erect a statue or sculpture honoring the first Touchdown and the three Touchdowns that succeeded her?’” Foote said.

The plan is still in its early stages, he said, but University officials have reacted positively to the idea. The monument would be funded by alumni donations.

It would be “an alumni-led initiative as a gift to the University and the student body,” Foote said.

Touchdown “has certainly become part of the fabric of the history of the University, and history and tradition are important,” he said.

Geoffrey Block ’14, at-large representative for the Student Assembly, said he is also concerned about promoting Cornell’s Touchdown tradition. Block sponsored a Student Assembly resolution last week that would have made “Touchdown the Bear” Cornell’s official mascot. The resolution was defeated.

The resolution was intended “to pay homage to the fact that this is a part of Cornell’s history,” Block said.

Despite the bear’s ubiquity at sporting events and around campus, the University does not have an official mascot. Instead, the Big Red Bear has been adopted as an unofficial mascot since the Touchdown bear cubs became popular nearly a century ago.

Block said he wanted to use his resolution to attract more attention to Cornell’s traditions.

“I think the assembly and the student body should focus on tradition a little bit more,” he said during the S.A.’s debate on Thursday. “Tradition is an important part of Cornell.”

The resolution met resistance from some S.A. members who thought students should be polled to determine their mascot preferences and other members who did not want the assembly to spend its time discussing the University’s mascot.

“We’re focusing on a couple good initiatives now,” said Jon Rau ’12, Arts and Sciences representative, citing Cornell’s proposed tech campus in New York City as one such issue. “I think that’s a better use of our time than trying to change the mascot.”

Block insisted the bear was an important part of Cornell history.

“The Student Assembly should value tradition a little bit more,” he said.

Original Author: Michael Linhorst