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Belmont's skeleton in the closet: Ned, the original Belmont Bruin

Original Belmont Bruin mascot. Photo courtesy of Lila D. Bunch Library.

Near the men’s basketball team locker room, the carcass of a navy blue bear once embellished with a jagged smile, piercing plastic orbs and chunky Converse-like shoes resides on top of a storage cabinet. The abandoned mascot body belongs to a no-name bruin with a nightmarish look and nearly nonexistent online presence.

Though there are a few photos of the original Belmont Bruin circulating campus, he has the same Google search presence of a Tinder match you’d consider a red flag. When I slid a photo of the original Bruin mascot across the library's front desk, student worker Anika Heywood cupped her face in disbelief. “What is that? That is terrifying,” she gasped with laughter. “There is no soul behind those eyes!” The year of the bruin In 1995, Belmont University manufactured its new identity as the Belmont Bruins. Previously known as the Rebels and Rebelettes, Dr. William E. Troutt spearheaded the decision to replace its mascot rooted in Confederate history. In 1996, Dr. Troutt’s vision for the Belmont Bruins came to life when the university introduced the unnamed bruin. The navy blue Bruin trotted across the courts in oversized high-tops and a basketball jersey with the No. 1 etched on the back. Mascot costume designer Henry Gomez designed and manufactured the original Belmont Bruin mascot costume.

Gomez also created the Minnesota Viking’s Rex, the purple foam dinosaur whose demise occurred in 2000 when he retired. Rex isn’t the only short-lived mascot of Gomez’, considering his production of Belmont’s original Bruin retired in 2003. Bob’s bruin In 2003, the Department of Athletics and former President Bob Fisher decided to rebrand the athletics logo to accompany the unveiling of the Curb Event Center. In addition to a new logo, the original Bruin mascot would be replaced by a more fresh-faced bear. Lindsey Wheeley started her new job as Belmont University’s head cheerleading coach in 2003, the same year Bruiser pushed his predecessor off of the pedestal. The first question Wheeley asked former athletic director Mike Strickland was, “Do we have a mascot?” “He said yes, we just got one. I feel like it was around Welcome Week they actually did a contest and let people submit names.” A brown bruin built with a Hercules body type became Belmont University’s new beloved mascot. His name? Bruiser. Though the OG mascot was unnamed, Wheeley remembers calling the blue bruin “Scary Bruiser.” “Way back in the day we used to sometimes have someone dress up in the old suit and they would call him Scary Bruiser, and Scary Bruiser would kind of make a cameo and run out across the court,” Wheeley said. Wheeley admits the audience didn’t recognize the original mascot when he joined Bruiser on the courts for a reunion. “People thought, ‘who is that’ and ‘what is that?’” A tale of two bruins The unnamed bruin finally earned a name when the marketing department released a satirical documentary about a mascot who fell from grace in 2013. His posthumous name: Ned. The video characterized Ned as an egotistical liability, consumed by his honey addiction and dark obsession for revenge against Bruiser. Legend has it, an intern named Bruiser took over the mascot position after Belmont noticed Ned’s inflated ego took precedence over his work ethic. Ned drowned his sorrows by turning to a “honey addiction.”

The navy blue bear stormed off of the courts to return to his roots in the great outdoors.

Going off the grid didn’t seem to be the answer for Ned. When Ned returned to campus, he plotted revenge to get rid of Bruiser. The two bruins competed for stardom on and off the court, but ultimately Bruiser knocked off Ned. Most Belmont students think Bruiser’s enemy is Lu the Bison from that other school down the boulevard. Though Bruiser and Lu playfully antagonize each other over social media for the annual battle of the boulevard showdown.

Bruiser’s true enemy is closer than students think. Bruiser’s adversary sits down the hall in a storage closet. Though the narrative between the two bruins is wholly fabricated for entertainment, Ned is literally and figuratively Belmont’s skeleton in the closet. Bruiser, the great During basketball season, the Curb Event Center fills with students decked out in blue and red, waving foam bear claws and tipping their glitzy bachelorette-party-style cowboy hats. Crunch bars are thrown into the crowd, “500 Miles” plays through the speakers and Bruiser high-fives kids in the audience. Betty Wiseman wears several hats for Belmont University, including “pioneer,” considering she birthed the women’s basketball program at Belmont. During her five decades at Belmont, she has been acquainted with the many mascots of Belmont, but one mascot has a special place in her heart: Bruiser, not Ned. “I had a sweet relationship with a particular Bruiser,” Wiseman explained, “We were kindred spirits.” Betty Wiseman’s lips curved into a smile as she reminisced on her relationship with Bruiser.

She recounted the times he would come into the crowd to give her a hug.

“He knew there’s a little girl inside me that just loves to come out and play at 79 years old,” Wiseman said, holding her hands over her heart. Wiseman admitted she thought Ned’s costume “could be improved,” but said the importance of a mascot lies in its personality and how it interacts with the crowd. Bruiser’s fanbase isn’t limited to the Belmont community. ESPN gave him a shoutout on live television, commentating on his swaggy dance moves. “Bruiser! Always entertaining.” Mid-Major Madness commended Bruiser’s “adorable” appearance and musical talent in the 2017 Mid-Major Madness mascot bracket. Once a year, Bruiser celebrates his birthday center court with his mascot posse, including big names like the Tennessee Titan’s T-Rac and the Nashville Predator’s Gnash. But his old friend Ned isn’t invited. Ned sits down the hall in his less-than-luxurious retirement home: the Curb Event Center storage closet. Hall of the forgotten bruin Lindsey Wheeley invited me to meet Ned during cheer practice. I decided to pay the mystifying blue bear a visit. Wheeley guided me down a hallway decorated with colossal portraits of Belmont athletes in all of their action-shot glory to a storage closet. A narrow gray metal storage cabinet sat in the cluttered closet. I expected her to unlock the cabinet to reveal Ned’s suit in an airtight container.

To my surprise, the navy blue fur suit was balled up and shoved to the back on top of the cabinet next to a random tattered cardboard box. “He probably had feet and then there was a head and I don’t know where it is,” Wheeley revealed as she handed me the limp decapitated body of what was once Ned. “And then it just goes up there. So when you're done, you can just throw it in there,” she instructed me as she pointed to the now vacant space on top of the storage cabinet. “Is that where he lives? Just up there,” I asked her in shock. Wheeley explained the athletics department kept the suit just in case his headless body ever gets a chance to be in a Belmont Hall of Fame collection.

Julia Gigis holding the remains of Ned’s mascot costume.

Down the hall, a heavy-duty washing machine is guarded by two students as the spin cycle whirls the beloved body of Bruiser around and around. “Bruiser’s costume costs $8,000 and is usually replaced every six years,” Wheeley said. I balled Ned’s body up and threw the mangled blue suit back onto the top of the storage cabinet. “Rest in peace,” I said as I tucked his body away, “or... well, pieces.” Belmont University’s original Bruin mascot currently resides next to a tattered brown box, awaiting the day he gets a chance to be in the Belmont Athletics Hall of Fame.

This article was written by Julia Gigis

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