Bronze mascot should stand up to prowling vandals

Towson's new tiger built to last

February 09, 2007|By Julie Scharper | Julie Scharper,Sun reporter

The bronze tiger bares its teeth, mouth open in a roar. It stretches forward, as if about to stride across a lawn at Towson University, but all four paws are planted firmly on the ground.

That makes it harder to steal a leg.

At a ceremony yesterday, university officials unveiled the statue, a gift from the alumni association, and said that they hoped it would bolster school spirit. They also expressed the wish that this tiger would fare better than the last.

"It's an amazing tribute to the university that will obviously last for many, many years," said Student Government Association president Patrick Dominguez. "Much longer than our old tiger."

FOR THE RECORD - An article in Friday's Maryland section about the unveiling of a new tiger statue at Towson University incorrectly identified the Student Government Association's president. His name is Patrick Dieguez.
The Sun regrets the errors.

For nearly a decade, a growling fiberglass tiger stood in front of the university library. Vandals seemed not to take its raised paw as a threat, but as an invitation. They broke off its leg - as well as the tail and numerous teeth - in episodes spanning a decade, according to university police.

Nearly toothless and emblazoned with profanities, the old tiger was taken down in April after being attacked twice over spring break.

Some students said that losing the tiger was a blow to morale.

"I think people were generally upset by it because it was something that defined Towson University," Dominguez said in an interview. The culprits, he said, "were kind of messing with our history and messing with us."

The university community pushed for a new tiger, but a beast of a different stripe. This mascot needed to be indestructible, they said.

So the Alumni Association commissioned a bronze tiger with all four paws bolted to the platform and its tail wrapped around its right hind leg.

"The vendor told us that it will last forever," said Lori Armstrong, vice president of alumni affairs.

The tiger perches on an expanse of grass in front of Stephens Hall, the university's oldest building and the home of its iconic clock tower. Motorists passing by on York Road will be able to see it, as will students who have classes in that part of campus.

University police officers will also be able to keep a closer eye on it. But students say that they're not quite sure that this tiger won't be mauled.

"The head is still up for grabs," joked senior management major Terrel Dumars, as he sat in a group study room in the Cook Library. He was working on a business proposal with his friends John Donovan, a senior business administration major, and Nick Paska, a senior management major.

"I've got a chainsaw at home," said Donovan, laughing.

Some students said the destruction of the tiger was no laughing matter.

"It's sad that people don't treat with respect a public symbol," Izaskun Urien, a senior marketing major, said as she waited in line at Starbucks in the Cook Library. "I don't understand this desire to break things."

College and university mascots are often subject to unusual treatment. At the University of Maryland, College Park, students rub the nose of Testudo the terrapin before big games and exams.

Even living mascots face risks. A hound dog named Blue Smokey, the mascot of The University of Tennessee, was kidnapped by a rival team in 1964, according to the university's Web site.

For years, the barnyard mascots of the U.S. Naval Academy and the U.S. Military Academy were kidnapped before the annual Army-Navy football game. Snatching the beasts was officially banned in 1991, after some enterprising midshipmen went after Army's mules in a helicopter. Still, some cadets flouted the ban in 2002 and literally got Navy's goat.

Towson's fiberglass tiger was given to the university by the Student Government Association in 1996 in an attempt to build school spirit, said Dominguez, the Student Government Association president.

Someone cut off the tiger's tail just six months after it was installed, said Capt. Charles Herring of the university police. Over the years, it was vandalized at least three other times, according to a report in the Towerlight, the university newspaper.

The statue suffered about $1,500 in damage after being vandalized twice during spring break last year. No one was charged in the incidents, Herring said.

Some students say they didn't feel too attached to the tiger.

"I didn't even realize it was gone," said Nick Caronna as he walked by the place where the old statue once stood.

The sophomore accounting major, one of the school's many commuters, said that he hasn't attended any Towson sporting events.

Dominguez, the Student Government Association president, said that his group has been working to boost loyalty to the school among students. The installation of the tiger statue fits in with their mission to make the campus feel more distinctly and intensely like Towson.

They have painted giant paw prints around campus, and are striving to teach all students the Towson fight song.

University President Robert L. Caret said that he thought the tiger statue would deepen students' connections with the school's history and traditions, adding: "It's fierce, it's ferocious and it's strong."

julie.scharper@baltsun.com

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