Cameron Pollack / Sun Photography Editor

Touchdown the Bear is a staple for the Cornell community.

September 13, 2017

Inside the Suit: The Students Within the Big Red Bear

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You’ve seen it everywhere.

From its rallying stunts at hockey games to its more ordinary strolls through Ho Plaza, Touchdown the Bear has a substantial presence on campus. But where some Universities choose to hire someone to portray their mascot, at Cornell, a handful of students take turns inside the suit.

“It’s definitely rewarding — the best part is cheering up Cornell students,” said Kaitlin Moore ’18.

Moore is the president of Big Red Bears, a student organization that manages Touchdown’s appearances.

“If Touchdown is requested at a football game or any other type of event, then people can sign up for it,” she said. “We trade off and if you’re available you sign up to be Touchdown.”

Sarah Minkler ’18, now the club’s treasurer, was eager to get involved in the club from the get-go.

“I love Halloween and dressing up in costumes,” Minkler said. “When I saw the bear walking around at ClubFest freshman year, I jumped at the opportunity.”

The club recently acquired a new suit, bringing its total Touchdown costumes to three.

“The new suit has a lot better sight,” Minkler said. “You can actually see what you’re doing. You were just basically running into people in the old suit.”

The Big Red Bears club was created within the last 17 years, according to the Big Red Bears’ website — but Touchdown the Bear has been around since 1915, when Cornell purchased a live bear cub for $25.

Cornell continued to have the actual bear cub as its mascot up until the 1930s, but in the 1970s, Cornell student Ron Winarick ’78 donned a bear suit to continue Cornell’s mascot tradition. Today, Touchdown the Bear attends a variety of events on and off campus.

“I got to do this really fancy alumni event in New York City,” Moore said. “I got bussed to New York for the day and I was excused from all my classes. They looked really nice and I was in this bear suit trying to interact with these fancy people. But they were really excited that I was there.”

Minkler said her favorite event was when she went to work with preschoolers during Homecoming week.

“I’m a big fan of interacting with children when I’m in the suit,” she said. “I was there for like three hours and every half hour a new classroom came out and tackled me to the ground. It was a lot of fun.”

The mascot is not allowed to hold babies, reveal his or her identity or talk to people, Moore said. The club also limits the amount of time a student wears the suit to 45 minutes, and a club member acts as a “Bear watcher” for each event to ensure that Touchdown is performing safely.

Big Red Bears also ask applicants to show their best “bear walk,” which essentially entails walking with extremely exaggerated steps.

“However big you think your movement is, its only half of that,” Minkler said. “Your movement doesn’t look as exaggerated in the suit as you feel it is.”

One of the most important tasks as a mascot is getting the crowd excited, which at times can prove difficult, according to Moore.

“It depends on the crowd,” Moore said. “Some students, when you walk up in the Touchdown suit, are not having it. The best people are kids and alumni because alumni miss Cornell and for kids it’s just a cuddly bear. Usually, interacting with Cornell students is harder.”

Tryouts for Touchdown the Bear will begin Wednesday, and each applicant will have the opportunity to portray Touchdown in 30 minute time slots

“We teach you about being in the suit beforehand and give you some tips,” Moore said. “Basically, we just put you in the suit let you walk around Ho Plaza for half an hour and then we evaluate you on what you’re doing. It’s really fun, especially if you just wanna get in the suit and see what it’s like.”