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://web0.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
Thanks to Lindsey Bray for her assistance in collecting research material for this