TOM III - Official U of M Mascot
For over 35 years, the sideline mascot for the University of Memphis has been a Bengal Tiger named TOM. TOM attends all Tiger Football home games, and he can also be found at many other University events throughout the year. TOM travels in style in a custom-designed, climate-controlled trailer, always with police escort.
The first Tiger, TOM, was procured by the Highland Hundred Football Boosters in 1972 and served the U of M faithfully for nearly 20 years until passing away in February of 1992. TOM came to the University on November 9, 1972, when the tiger cub was placed in a dog kennel in Michigan City, Indiana, and put on a Memphis-bound flight via Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. He arrived in Memphis at 3 a.m., and C. Cleveland Drennon, President of the Highland Hundred, approved a check for $1,500 to purchase the animal. That morning, TOM was taken to Athletic Director Billy 'Spook' Murphy's office for a press conference. The Highland Hundred officially presented TOM to the University in a ceremony at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium on November 11, 1972, during a football game against the University of Cincinnati.
TOM had initially been named 'Shane' at the suggestion of the breeder's daughter. Once in Memphis, though, a contest was held to name the mascot. More than 2,500 entries were submitted to a committee chaired by Judge Harry Pierotti. The list was ultimately reduced to two choices, Shane and TOM, which stands for Tigers Of Memphis. TOM won.
During his first few months in Memphis, TOM was housed by Highland Hundred member Bill Proctor in his garage, which the club had redecorated, and was closely guarded by Proctor's hound dog. TOM would ultimately reside at the Memphis Zoo under the care of trainer Louie Bell, where he was known as one of the zoo's most popular attractions. TOM grew to be the largest Bengal Tiger documented in captivity at that time, weighing over 600 pounds. As TOM grew older, the decision was made by the Highland Hundred to keep the Tiger Tradition alive by securing a new tiger to be raised as TOM II.
In the fall of 1991, Highland Hundred President Ray Daniels and President-Elect Bobby Wharton received TOM II as a gift from Tom and Carolyn Atchison of Florence, Alabama. The little tiger had been born on July 11 of that year, and, as TOM had been, he was presented by the Highland Hundred to the University in a ceremony at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium on November 16, 1991, during a football game against the University of Alabama. TOM II spent his life housed and cared for in private facilities provided and maintained by the Highland Hundred Tiger Guard. After a few months spent living in the home of William 'Nickie' Nixon, TOM moved to a custom-designed Tiger House constructed by the Highland Hundred at St. Nick's Farm and Zoological Park in the Memphis suburb of Collierville. With a price tag of over $300,000, raised entirely by the Tiger Guard, the habitat was widely regarded as the finest private facility in the nation, surpassing that of many zoos. In this comfortable home, TOM II matured into a magnificent animal weighing more than 500 pounds.
TOM II occupied the Collierville facility happily for nearly 14 years, but growth and development in the Collierville area eventually reached St. Nick's Farm, and a move to a new Tiger House became necessary. In the summer of 2005, the Tiger Guard, led by Bobby Wharton, began construction of a new habitat in a rural area just south of Memphis on land offered by long-time Tiger fans Jeff and Mary Kuntz. The new facility was designed as a virtual copy of the original facility but includes many upgrades that improved TOM II's comfort and safety. With two swimming pools, a dedicated water well, a climate controlled den box, a veterinary facility, and multiple redundant security features, the new Tiger House mimics the original Collierville facility as one of the nation's finest private facilities. TOM II was diagnosed with cancer during an annual 2008 medical examination, and passed away on October 15 of that year at the age of 17. He outlived all four of his siblings by a number of years, a testament to the level of care and love he received. He also far exceeded the life expectancy of a male tiger outside captivity. In keeping with the tradition established with the death of TOM I in 1992, TOM II was cremated, and his remains now reside in the UofM Athletics Hall of Fame on campus beside TOM I. TOM II was honored in a moving memorial ceremony before the October 25, 2008 football game against Southern Miss.
Shortly after TOM II's death, the Tiger Guard began the search for a new tiger to serve as TOM III, and a stroke of good luck was realized in a discussion with the Wisconsin Big Cat Rescue & Educational Center in Rock Springs, WI. After an unexpected pregnancy at their facility, founders Jeff Kozlowski and Jenny Meyer were faced with three new cubs born August 31, 2008. They graciously offered to donate one of their young tigers to serve as TOM III. On October 23, Bobby Wharton, Jeff Kuntz, and Scott Forman, who took over as Tiger Guard Chairman for TOM III, flew to Wisconsin to view Kozlowski's USDA-licensed facility and meet the seven-week-old cub. TOM III flew home to Memphis that afternoon and now receives close attention and loving care in his private facility.
TOM III was introduced at a press conference on November 17, 2008, and the Tiger Guard presented him to the University on November 22 during a football game against UCF. All three TOM's have been presented at November football games.
Since his arrival at 16 pounds, TOM III has grown to a magnificent size worthy of the University he symbolizes. Under the care of the Tiger Guard, who is licensed and regularly scrutinized by State and Federal regulatory agencies, Tiger fans can take pride in the fact that TOM III receives a level of care unsurpassed by any private facility in the nation.
As one of only two universities in America with a live tiger mascot, The University of Memphis is unique in its Tiger Tradition. As a project of the Highland Hundred, no public or University funds are used to provide for TOM's needs, and no University resources are required in his care. TOM is a powerful and majestic symbol of the University of Memphis, and his presence presents constant opportunities to educate Tiger fans young & old through the preservation of one of the world's most recognizable endangered species.