Baylor began intercollegiate athletic competition in the 1890s, but the University was without an official mascot until 1914. That’s the year President Samuel Palmer Brooks held a vote of the student body to determine how the University’s teams would be known nationwide. Former student George Baines Rosborough offered a $5 gold piece to the student who submitted the winning entry.
Despite competition from two dozen rivals including the buffalo, antelope, frog and ferret, Baylor students chose the bear as the University’s mascot, and Doyle Thrailkill of San Antonio won the $5 prize. Baylor’s student newspaper the Lariat soon carried the headline “Bruin is Elected Patron Saint of All Baylordom.”
Although Baylor adopted “Bears” as its official nickname in 1914, it was not until the 1920s that a real bear mascot came to the University.
The first live bear was made available by the troops of the 107th Engineers, a unit of the 32nd Infantry Division stationed at Camp MacArthur in Waco during World War I.
The bear, named Ted, made his first appearance at the 1917 Baylor-Texas A&M football game, and when the unit got its orders to move on, the bear was left in the hands of the Baylor athletic department. Since then, the use of bears at Baylor football and basketball games has become as much a fixture as the players, cheerleaders and bands.
A series of bears have served as Baylor’s mascot, but perhaps the best-known was Joe College, who came to Baylor through the work of Bill Boyd, then a Baylor student. Boyd bought the bear from a zoo that went broke at the Cotton Palace in Waco. He then approached Baylor’s president, Pat Neff, and offered to take care of the bear in exchange for free tuition. Neff accepted the deal and the tradition of live bears as mascots has continued since.
In 1974, the student body voted to name all the bears “Judge” followed by a surname in honor of the university’s namesake, Judge R.E.B. Baylor. Baylor’s current mascots are “Joy,” named in honor of the wife of President Emeritus (and former Chancellor) Herbert H. Reynolds, and the newest mascot, “Lady” named after Sue Sloan, wife of then-President Dr. Robert B. Sloan Jr.
The bears attend several Baylor athletic events, schools, community centers, churches, and any other educational outreach.
The bears may also be seen at the Bill and Eva Williams Bear Habitat located in the center of the Baylor campus. The new home of the bears was officially dedicated during Homecoming 2005 and is classified as a Class `C’ Exhibitor Zoo. It is licensed to hold up to three North American Black Bears and is regulated and licensed by the United States Department of Agriculture and the Texas Parks and Wildlife.