This is the story of the man who became one of RIT’s first tiger mascots and the live Bengal tiger he helped bring to campus.
Before 1955, teams had been called “The Techmen” and “The Blue Gray.” Early in the 20th century, a dog named Brownie served as the mascot.
But after the 1955-1956 undefeated men’s basketball season, coaches and teams wanted a fiercer, more collegiate mascot. Henry Watts, head of the RIT News Bureau, began sending out news releases using “Tigers” as the nickname, and the name stuck.
A handful of students came up with the idea of getting a live tiger to bring to campus. The cost was $1,000 and the Seneca Park Zoo agreed to house the animal. Students sold stock for $1 per share to raise the money.
The 8-week-old cub arrived on Oct. 30, 1963, and after a contest, he was named Spirit, for Student Pride in RIT.
David Page ’66 (photo science) was a member of the tiger committee and became a student handler of the animal. Student handlers were allowed to visit the cub when the zoo was closed and to take him to campus and community events. Most of the handlers, including Page, were members of Alpha Phi Omega, a national service fraternity.
Page and Spirit had a special bond. Page was among the first to wear a tiger costume for events. (Today, that mascot is known as Ritchie.) But four months after his arrival, Spirit became too big to bring to campus. Then on Sept. 28, 1964, he died from an incurable genetic defect.
After graduating, Page, who worked as a fine arts photographer at Duke University, remained an ardent supporter of RIT. He was a member of the Alumni Association Board of Directors, leader of the RIT Raleigh/Durham Alumni Chapter and supporter of the RIT Big Shot. Page died Aug. 13, 2011.
He and other members of the tiger committee returned to RIT in 2005 to record the story of Spirit. For those comments, go to http://library.rit.edu/depts/archives/tigerpage/.