What do you know about Baxter the Bearcat? The answer is probably “very little.” Like every other student at Binghamton University, you see Baxter at the basketball games, the occasional soccer match and, as some freshmen may remember, at orientation. But there is so much more to our beloved mascot than basketball games. Not to mention, he has been a part of Binghamton’s athletic transformation that started 10 years ago.
Binghamton made the transition to Division I athletics in 2001, but the move required the school to make some adjustments to its appearance. The first of those changes was a change to the school’s logo and mascot. The Colonials had been the school’s mascot for decades, but it didn’t fit the profile for a Division I team.
The school vetoed several ideas for a new logo and mascot and on Aug. 18, 1999, the school unveiled the new logo that featured a vicious-looking Bearcat. That October, at Midnight Madness, the equivalent of our Late Nite Madness, the official mascot was announced. He was introduced as the Bearcat.
The department had a name contest for the mascot that took place over the following year. The department took several of the names and put them on a ballot and allowed students to vote for the name. Baxter emerged as the most popular, beating out Buster and Bingo.
In 2000, at Midnight Madness, the department introduced Baxter the Bearcat and gave him his 1-year birthday party. Baxter received a jersey that was made up for him and included his name and the number one on the back.
Dave Simek, athletic associate director for internal operations, remarked that there was early opposition to Baxter. Students said he looked too much like Chuck E. Cheese and that the actual mascot was cartoon-like and not the same ferocious animal displayed in the logo. It eventually subsided and the realization settled in that the mascot was significantly better than the Colonial.
The costume has an operating manual that includes “The Mascot 10 Commandments.” These are rules that everyone in the Baxter uniform is expected to follow. Among them is the obvious rule against speaking. Also, the Mascot is warned never to pick up or hold children.
According to Simek, the department purchased a second costume to allow for Baxter to be used in two different venues at the same time.
“The costumes are not cheap,” Simek said. “They are an investment that we take care of.”
Senior Associate Director of Athletics Jason Siegel said that Baxter is used at numerous community events, as well as athletic competitions. Despite students’ assumptions, in addition to his appearance at all men’s and women’s basketball home games, Baxter attends a number of other BU athletic competitions, community fundraisers and school assemblies. Baxter also attends the annual Faculty and Staff Luncheon and the annual homecoming parades.
“The criticism early on was that he wasn’t active,” Simek said. “He just sat in the bleachers; so every year we are getting better and better. He’s in the local parades in town and every year he goes to the Vestal parade. He also travels with teams on all educational trips.”
The most interesting usage of the two costumes has occurred several times over the past few years, when it appeared that Baxter had developed some serious skills at the drum set. However, the department simply gave the real Baxter a small break as the drummer of the Pep Band put on the second costume and played a flashy drum solo. The old switcheroo gave the real Baxter a chance to breathe and cool down and it gave the crowd something different.
Siegel said that the department is utilizing several individuals at the current time to play the role of Baxter. The students are paid for every appearance they make. To request the use of Baxter, just visit the athletic department’s Web site.
The students who have been in the Baxter costume have the unique opportunity to access their inner fun side.
“You’ve got to be animated,” Simek said. “You can be the shyest person in the world and jump in the costume and be a completely different person.”
During the semester, the department uses multiple students to fill the needs of Baxter. But, over school breaks, the department looks to the local community for help.
“We have hired local kids from high schools and they have been our best mascots in the offseasons,” Simek said. “We’ve used them over the breaks when the students are gone. One of them is from Union-Endicott; he’s gone to mascot training camps including one run by the Phillie Phanatic. He incorporates the things he learns; he did our orientation summer programs and he was phenomenal.”
Baxter has turned into a popular guy here at BU and in the local community. His 10th birthday was this past October, and if not for the athletic department’s issues at that time, we could have celebrated it in the epic fashion that our dear mascot deserves.