Bear witness: The infamous legend of the T Bear

Men’s cross country tosses the storied T Bear in the air before a meet, a tradition for good luck.
Men’s cross country tosses the storied T Bear in the air before a meet, a tradition for good luck.

Attend a football game at Weston, and you may see the familiar purple cow mascot, Ephelia. Attend a cross-country meet, however, and you are sure to see the Bear. The Bear, familiarly known as T Bear, has been a member of the men’s cross country team since 1978, when a first-year on the team won a raffle after competing in a local race. Encouraged by his teammates with chants of “Choose the Bear, choose the Bear,” he forwent other arguably more desirable, more valuable prizes and chose the large teddy bear that quickly became an integral member of the team.

The men immediately started bringing the Bear to their meets and tossing him into the air before races for good luck. When the Ephs upset MIT at the first meet to which they brought the bear, the Engineers decided to get revenge – they stole the bear at the next meet and made their mark on the Ephs’ new mascot by sewing a “T” on the Bear’s chest. Thus, the Bear earned his nickname, and this act started an ongoing tradition of bear-knapping by other teams, from all over New England – and even all over the country. Whenever a team manages to take the bear, that team adds something to the bear; over the years, the bear has accumulated many sewed-on patches and letters, various pieces of clothing and even a smaller white bear, from Bowdoin, sewed into its stomach, Alien-style.

The most recent Bear abduction occurred over the summer, when a non-Williams college student arrived at the house of tri-captain Andrew Beaudoin ’15, who had possession of the Bear at the time. Posing as Noah Williams ’17, the Bear-knapper tricked Beaudoin’s mother into giving him T Bear by claiming that he was picking up the Bear to take it to Bijan Mazaheri ’16.

“When news of the disaster hit Williamstown, we immediately held a ‘Meeting of the Minds’ to strategize T Bear’s rescue,” Mazaheri said. “Online photos of the Bear at Tuft’s led us to believe that the Bear was being held captive in an apartment housing three runners from Tufts. [Tri-captain] Aldis Inde ’15 and I drove to Tufts that weekend to meet Beaudoin for a rescue mission.”

“Upon reaching the Tufts campus, Beaudoin and I spotted a roller (an instrument that only runners could own) in the back of a car with a Tufts bumper sticker. Acting on ridiculous extrapolation, we decided to follow the vehicle to its destination. A few minutes later, we found ourselves in front of a veritable stampede of Jumbos in front of their assistant coach’s apartment. Unfortunately, our poorly disguised vehicle betrayed our identity and we were forced to drive away with the Tufts runners waving us goodbye.”

More drastic measures were swiftly taken, including scouting out multiple residences of Tufts runners. Several unsuccessful attempts to locate and retrieve the Bear left the men stumped; “We returned to Williamstown demoralized,” Mazaheri said.

“The next week, a newer photo online revealed that Conn. College attire had been added to the Bear, with no Tufts additions,” Mazaheri continued. “Evidently, Conn. College had stolen the Bear and framed Tufts by taking photos on its campus. Fortunately, through some negotiations, we were able to retrieve T Bear by the beginning of the season.”

Past Bear-rescues have required even more ingenuity from the men. Though the team rarely negotiates with Bearrorists, exceptions have been made. Wesleyan once demanded a cow in return for the Bear; the men, who always take the rescue of T Bear very seriously, obtained a calf and transported it to Wesleyan in a van. The Cardinals were so surprised that the Ephs had met their demands that they quickly handed over the Bear – and they sent the calf back with the Ephs as well. Once, members of the Tufts team came to the College, broke into a dorm and set off a fire alarm, all in an effort to obtain the Bear. Additionally, in a shocking but cunning betrayal, the women’s team stole the Bear and hid it from the men for a number of weeks. The standoff ended when the men raided the women’s rooms and took their stuffed animals hostage; the women quickly turned over T Bear to ensure the safe return of their plush friends.

Head Coach Pete Farwell ’73 has known T Bear since his debut on the team. “At first it was a haiku, and it became a poem, and then it became a short story, and then a novella, and then a novel, and it’s now like War and Peace, the story of the Bear; it’s an epic saga at this point,” Farwell said. “He’s really brought a great vibe to the program, and it’s neat to have those kinds of traditions; it’s not all just about winning, it’s about carrying on from prior generations. We talk about doing your normal routine before a race and getting ready, and for the guys, one of the parts of that routine is throwing that bear up, and I think when they gather like that, it brings them all together.”

Farwell has experienced his fair share of Bear-knapping: “In the beginning days, people were really ingenuous, and there’s still some of that, but more now it’s a little sneaky and conniving. There was one time we were at MIT at Franklin Park, and we had the bear all safely locked in our van after the race. The guys went over to the MIT gym because it was the only place you could shower nearby. So they all went in there to change, and I was out sitting by the van, and these nice MIT runners came and invited me over to where they were serving some snacks and drinks for their team after the race. I said, well that’s really nice, I’ll go over with them. When I came back to the van, they had broken into the van and stolen the bear. I went in and told the guys, and they came racing out of the locker room, some of them not totally dressed, and they went running all around trying to find the bear and everything, but it was pretty much long gone.” Luckily, the Bear has always made its way back to the Purple Valley.

It never takes long for T Bear to find his way into the hearts of newcomers to the team. “It’s a fun tradition, and it has been interesting to learn about the different teams over the years that have had this Bear and passed it on, so it’s not just a stuffed animal, it’s a part of the tradition,” Assistant Coach Colin Young said. “This year, we’ve had a couple instances of forgetting the Bear, but no one has stolen it, so I think it’s been a successful season for the Bear so far.”

Through all the antics – dorm room break-ins, dog piles at meets, prefrosh brought along on the chase, ransom notes and videos, aggressive parents, waiting escape cars and the ensuing retaliations – the Bear has always remained an integral part of the team. “One of the cool things about the Bear is that it creates ties between generations of Williams runners,” tri-captain Daniel Siegel ’15 said. “When you talk to a guy who was on the team and graduated before you got there, you may not know much about him, but you know he probably has a good story about the bear.”

Former runner Gregory Crowther ’95 perhaps puts it best in his lyrics of “We Like the Bear,” a parody of Madonna’s “Like a Prayer:” “We will chant His name / And toss Him in the air / He lifts us beyond pain / Because we’re in His care / In our darkest hour / He will give us power / When we go anywhere / You know He takes us there.”