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From fierce opponent to friend for all: the history of Vinny the Bearcat

Vincent “Vinny” the Bearcat, Saint Vincent’s resident fuzzy mascot, can be found at nearly every home game or pep rally representing the Bearcat sports teams and interacting with fans. Vinny’s likeness is present on countless pieces of Saint Vincent clothing and media.

Many of Vinny’s traits are recent additions to his character, but the critter is actually 90 years old. “Born” in 1928 after the Saint Vincent varsity teams began to use the “Bearcat” nickname, Vinny started out as simply “The Bearcat” and did not acquire his first name until 2011.

Reverend Brian Boosel, assistant professor of history, said that the choice of a “bearcat” was rooted in a desire for Saint Vincent’s varsity team to appear as challenging opponents.

“[The decision of the ‘Bearcats’ name] was because of [Saint Vincent] wanting to move away from the idea that all Catholic schools would be called the ‘Saints.’ [Saint Vincent] wanted the scariness of the bear along with the agility of the cat,” Rev. Boosel said.

Saint Vincent’s past junior varsity teams had a near-identical, but smaller, version of Vinny as their mascot, known as the “Bearkitties,” or “Bearkittens.”

Though the binturong, an animal nicknamed “the bearcat,” does exist, it more closely resembles a red panda rather than Vinny. In past years, Vinny looked lion-like and featured blood dripping from his jaws. From 1970 to 2000, the mascot became less graphic and mirrored a mountain lion after a redesign.

George Fetkovich, art director at Saint Vincent since 2013, said that Vinny’s current design is meant to make him more approachable and personable rather than intimidating.

“[Saint Vincent] wanted a more family-friendly mascot… due to his presence at events such as games and Sports Friendship Day,” Fetkovich said.

Vinny’s current green and gold coloring is meant to represent Saint Vincent’s school colors.

According to Fetkovich, green was originally chosen due to the high population of Irish-American male students at Saint Vincent during the time of the Bearcats’ naming in 1928.

“The gold coloring symbolizes the foliage of Saint Vincent and how the sun shines through the leaves,” Fetkovich stated, adding that he had wanted to make the school colors more apparent in the mascot.

The mascot’s most recent design debuted in 2015 along with new logos: Vinny’s head, narrowed eyes, a bearcat paw, and an angular “SVC” logo, all in green and/or gold. Vinny’s look is partially due to his intertwining with Saint Vincent’s athletics.

“I wanted Vinny to bear the school colors because he resonates with teams, whether he’s on the basketball court or [...] the football field,” Fetkovich said regarding his design choices.

The versatility of Vinny as a mascot and logo means that his image changes are far from over.

“Vinny is constantly evolving with [Saint Vincent’s] needs,” Fetkovich said.

Nowadays, Vinny the Bearcat’s main purpose is to boost morale and entertainment during games and pep rallies, but in past years it was not uncommon for Vinny to crash on-campus parties. Rev. Boosel shared an anecdote from his time as a student about Vinny popping into a party.

“When I was in college in the ‘90s, Vinny would show up at college parties […] Everyone would be dancing, then all of a sudden the Bearcat was there. It was very hot for whoever was in [the suit]!” Rev. Boosel said.

Playing Vinny the Bearcat is a work-study job opportunity for Saint Vincent students. Joel Santoro, vice president of SGA, is in charge of hiring the person playing Vinny, and is one of the only people who knows the identity of the person in the suit.

“The ideal Vinny is outgoing and is able to think quick on their feet […] Being able to improvise on the spot is something that is key to being Vinny.” Santoro said.

To play Vinny, one must also maintain cheerfulness and an amiable demeanor towards others, especially children.

“We want Vinny to have a positive attitude all the time and be able to cheer someone up and just make the room light up [...] That’s a characteristic that Vinny has always held and will continue to hold,” Santoro said about the requirements of the person playing Vinny.

The secrecy around the employee’s identity is not without necessity, according to Santoro.

“If people found out who he actually was, it would destroy the persona and character of Vinny. Vinny would then immediately become whoever is in the suit [to the outside world] [...] Vinny would lose the representation of the school […]” Santoro stated.

Vinny the Bearcat has lasted almost 100 years as the mascot of Saint Vincent throughout his many redesigns, athletic wins and losses and innumerable campus events.

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