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A Purr-fect Life: A History of the U of M mascot
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Ogle and Greenberg near the park's Lick Creek.
In 1912, the West Tennessee Normal School, a predecessor of the University of Memphis, was founded. The student body chose blue and gray for the school colors to represent the reunion of the North and South in the wake of the Civil War. Although they chose colors for their new school, the students did not pick a mascot for their sports teams. In early years, the University’s teams were known as the “blue and gray warriors” by local newspaper columnists. They were also referred to as “the teachers” and “the tutors” since the school’s primary function for its first 30 years was to train teachers for the public school system.

After the final game of the 1914 football season, there was a parade and the students began to shout, “We fight like tigers.” Shortly thereafter, student publications began to refer to the teams and the student body as the Tigers. In 1924, the school’s football coach, Lester Barnard, adopted the motto “Every man a tiger” to inspire his team to success and the student body to support them. His efforts paid off with a nearly undefeated season. However, the tiger was not officially adopted as the mascot until 1939, and so the teams were still referred to as “the teachers” or “the tutors” in the press.

Pouncer goes live

Slightly more than two decades after the tiger was officially adopted as mascot, alumnus J. Wayne Johnson created the student mascot Pouncer. Although the University purchased the body for the original costume, Johnson had to use his own funds to purchase the head for the outfit. Pouncer was officially made a part of the cheerleading squad in 1961. Visit http://www.memphis.edu/magazinearchive/v30i1/feat4.html for more on the students who have portrayed Pouncer.

TOM: the U of M’s Bengal tiger

Shortly after Johnson created Pouncer, members of the student body became interested in acquiring a live animal mascot. In November 1962, the Cub Club officially became a student group and lobbied to acquire a live mascot. After a year, the Cub Club was disbanded and its functions were taken over by the Promotion Committee of the Student Government Association (SGA).

The SGA proposed that the administration should buy a Bengal tiger from the Memphis Zoo. Some students wanted to house the tiger on campus, but the administration was hesitant because of safety concerns. A plan to purchase a tiger and house it at the Memphis Zoo was eventually abandoned because of cost and safety concerns.

At that point, the booster club Highland Hundred took over the work of acquiring a live mascot. In 1972, the group purchased an 8-week-old Bengal tiger from a zoo in the North. The tiger was transported to Memphis and officially gifted to the University at a football game on November 11, 1972, at the Liberty Bowl. The tiger’s name TOM, which stands for Tigers of Memphis, was chosen through a naming contest. Through most of his life, TOM was housed at the Memphis Zoo. TOM was replaced in 1991 by TOM II because of failing health. TOM died in 1992.

Unlike his predecessor, TOM II lived at a private animal facility in Collierville. The current live mascot, TOM III, officially started his duties in 2008. — by Frances Breland

Thanks to Lindsey Bray for her assistance in collecting research material for this article.

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Last Updated: 1/8/13