We heard it when we came to Maryville for our interview. We heard it each time we visited campus before finally making the move to Missouri. We read it in congratulatory emails and texts. Without question, the Baker family was familiar with the phrase “Once a Bearcat, always a Bearcat” long before we actually moved to “The Ville.”
It isn’t uncommon for a collegiate athletic program’s fans to say “once a _______, always a _______.” In preparing for this last blog, I Googled the phrase, trying to figure out where it originated. It apparently goes beyond sports. In my research, I found considerable biblical discussion on “once saved, always saved.” There was also some relationship websites with some lively discussion on “once a cheater, always a cheater.” I’ll leave that discussion alone! Ultimately my research couldn’t prove if Northwest was the first university to coin the phrase, but residents of “The Ville” don’t need evidence. In fact, you won’t convince anyone in Maryville that the saying didn’t originate with former Bearcat coach Ryland Milner.
And this belief is exhibit ‘A’ on why Northwest is special. It is impossible to quantify the passion of a fan base. Does Nebraska, Alabama or Notre Dame have the most passionate football fans? I suspect that depends on if you are asking someone in Lincoln, Tuscaloosa or South Bend. Here is what I know, Bearcat fans are some of the most passionate I’ve experienced. Occasionally, I’ve tried to explain the passion to colleagues in athletic administration. The best way I can do that is simply to state facts. In a town of 12,000 and a county of only 23,000 we routinely put more than 10,000 in a football stadium and we will have crowds of more than 2,000 at basketball games. That’s a strong market share! We are one of a handful of D2 programs that don’t have to worry about avoiding scheduling games at the same time as D1 teams. I can’t think of one instance where I thought our crowd was affected by a game at Mizzou, Nebraska, Kansas or K-State. Honestly, I’d put the passion of Bearcat fans up against fans of any institution.
To Bearcat fans, there is nothing more big time than the young men and women clad in green and white. They arrive early (especially to tailgate) and stay late. They travel en masse. They live and die with every possession, drive, at-bat, etc. In what feels like a sea of corn fields, lies a University that has no equal in the hearts of our 70,000 alumni and friends. So there is a deep meaning when a Northwest fan says “Once a Bearcat, always a Bearcat.”
As my last day as an employee of Northwest nears, my family is thankful for our time here. Together, we have dealt with a lot and accomplished a lot during the past 26 months. Personally, Heather and I are thankful for the support system that exists in this community. It is a great place to live and raise a family. We are thankful for the athletics staff. Northwest has some of the best coaches and administrators in the country. We are thankful for the 400+ students-athletes who have taught me a great deal about excellence and perseverance. It is because of the tremendous group of coaches and student-athletes the future is brighter than ever for Northwest. We are thankful for each faculty and staff member, alumnus, community member and fan. You make Northwest what it is. Lastly, we are thankful for our time as Bearcats. Without it, we wouldn’t know the meaning of “Once a Bearcat, always a Bearcat!”