CINCINNATI — Who is the University of Cincinnati Bearcat? That's a secret, but it's one supported by a team of UC students and one coach who helps it all come together.
"I'm the first mascot coach," said Chris Helmers.
Helmers' inaugural year as coach of the Bearcat has been a big one: From College Gameday to performances of the Nutcracker to the College Football Playoff, Helmers makes sure the mascot is suited up properly and that he nails Bearcat's big personality. Bearcat is even in the running as one of the top mascots in the country, currently ranked Number 2 in advance of this season's Mascot national championship.
"We want him to be their super hero," said Helmers.
Helmers donned the suit himself from 2015 to 2018. Now he also helps create props and skits while wrangling the team behind the mask.
Right now, there are about one dozen UC students who bring the mascot to life — but a Bearcat's identity is never revealed until graduation, when those who have taken up the mantle stomp across the stage in their cap, gown and Bearcat paws.
"Bearcat is the Bearcat," said Helmers. "What that means is that there's nobody in the suit right now. Like, this is Bearcat, there is nobody in there. When I was doing it, since I graduated, my identity can be revealed. It is a secret, when you don the suit."
Helmers himself has skiied and skydived in the suit, but he said the memory that sticks out to him was meeting Crosstown Shootout babies at UCMC.
"The doctor will take the baby out of the mother's hands and right into Bearcat's hands," he said.
You can see some highlights from Helmers' time in the video below: