Spring '08 Lander graduate Kevin Chastain is hanging up the Bearcat suit. Since donning the Bearcat costume for its debut at Lander's 2004 Homecoming celebration, Chastain has been the sole proprietor of the outfit.
What is a Bearcat?
This question has been uttered numerous times since the Bearcat was announced as Lander University's new mascot.
That was five years ago, and in that time a more important question has arisen: Who is the Bearcat?
Lander's Bearcat mascot was unveiled in spring 2004 during annual Homecoming activities. Since then there has only been one man behind the mask, paws and claws - Kevin Chastain.
Chastain, a native of Columbia, was a freshman at the time. He was in his second semester at Lander and was launching the beginning of a strong relationship with the university that, according to him, will continue for years to come.
He didn't come to Lander lightly though.
When Chastain was looking at colleges he had his eyes and heart set on a much larger university - one with a similar catlike mascot. He knew nothing of Lander, and wasn't interested in considering another college. His mother encouraged him to look into some other options, and Lander was on the list. After some discussion he agreed to tour the campus. What he found on his visit left him with an impression that has continued throughout his time at the university.
"The first time I came to Lander it was my birthday," said Chastain. "I had never heard of Lander and told my mom not to bother sending in the open house card. But once I set foot on campus I fell in love with it. I was immediately aware of the small, friendly atmosphere that makes Lander so great."
While not in the suit, Chastain has enjoyed a normal college life as an exercise science major, though his friends have always, and will likely continue to call him "Bearcat" regardless of whether he is wearing the suit or not.
As the Lander Bearcat, Kevin Chastain has found himself at events all over the Lander campus, Greenwood county and throughout the state. As pictured here in the Bearcat suit, Chastain could be seen roaming through the crowd of Lander students, faculty and staff, area community members and press as Sen. Barack Obama prepared to speak in Lander's Finis Horne Arena in January.
In line with his continuously jovial personality, Chastain said with a grin, "It has been nice to be known as the Bearcat, suit or no suit. My experience as the mascot has brought me closer to Lander than I would have been otherwise."
During his time as the Bearcat, Chastain has met prominent figures in South Carolina sport such as Danny Ford, George Rogers and Radio. He once made the play of the day on an upstate television station after sinking a half-court shot during halftime of a Lander basketball game. He also scored a winning basket in a game against other mascots during a celebration for the University of South Carolina mascot's birthday. He was seen, in character, on CNN walking through the crowd at a campaign rally for a stumping presidential hopeful, and he's had his picture taken with countless babies - all in the name of school spirit.
And for the spirit he has shown, Chastain has crossed various stages to be honored for his commitment to his alma mater. At Homecoming 2008, he was presented a plaque in recognition of his Bearcat service. At the April Sports Banquet he stepped up to the podium to accept the Dr. Boyce M. Grier Award, presented to the Lander student-athlete who best exemplifies school spirit.
In May he crossed the stage in Finis Horne Arena - Bearcat feet peering clearly from beneath his robe - and became a Lander graduate.
"During my time at Lander everyone from faculty, to staff, to students has been so friendly," said Chastain. "My friends have been so close. Lander is the best experience I've ever had."
Chastain's replacement is yet to be announced, but there is little doubt that he or she will have a challenge in filling those large Bearcat feet.