History of the Bearkats
The Sam Houston State Bearkats are the intercollegiate athletic teams representing Sam Houston State University, located in Huntsville, Texas. Sam Houston's colors are orange and white, and their sports team's nickname is the Bearkats. Sam Houston sports teams participate in NCAA Division I (Football Championship Subdivision (FCS-formerly known as Division I-AA) for football) in the Western Athletic Conference (WAC), having joined that conference on July 1, 2021, after spending the previous 34 years in the Southland Conference. SHSU's primary rival is Stephen F. Austin (SFA), and tensions between the two schools can run high before significant sporting events that pit one against the other.
The Sam Houston athletic department captured the Southland Conference Commissioner's Cup in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2013, 2014, 2018, and 2019 for the all-around athletic department. It topped the Southland Conference for all-academic recognition. The Kats are the only athletic department in the Southland Conference to get the Commissioner's Cup for 3 consecutive years, while the 7 total cups are the most in league history.
Sam Houston boasts the best average student-athlete GPA and the highest number of student-athletes named to the Southland Conference honor roll. This is particularly evident in the men's basketball program, which fielded 6 of the 13 student-athletes who gained Academic All-Conference honors, including junior Ryan Bright, who was also named student-athlete of the year for men's basketball.
Sam Houston's move to the WAC was announced on January 14, 2021, as part of a significant expansion of that conference. Also announced as future WAC members were three other Southland members from Texas (Abilene Christian, Lamar, SFA) plus Big Sky Conference member Southern Utah. Initially, all five schools were to join in July 2022, but the entry of SHSU and the other Texas schools was moved to 2021 after the Southland expelled its departing members.
Sam Houston has been announced as a future member of Conference USA, effective no later than July 2023.
College Sports Established
Sam Houston State University
1987 - Present / NCAA Division I
2023 - Present / C-USA Conference
2021 - 2023 / Western Athletic Conference
1987 - 2021 / Southland Conference
Bearkats - Sam Houston State University's athletic teams have been nicknamed "The Bearkats" since 1923 when the University's name was changed by the Texas State Legislature from Sam Houston Normal Institute to Sam Houston State Teachers College. Prior to 1923, the varsity sports teams were nicknamed "The Normals".
Early references to "Bearkats" spelled the name either "Bearcats", "Bear Cats" or "Bearkats". A bearcat actually is a kinkajou, a carnivorous mammal native to South America 10 to 12 inches in length with whiskers like a cat that sits up on its hind haunches like a bear. A nocturnal creature, it is known to be ferocious if provoked.
It is doubtful those who coined the "Bearkat" nickname had a kinkajou in mind, however. More likely, the name came from a popular local saying of the time, "tough as a Bearkat!" The late Reed Lindsey, who was a student/athlete in the 1920s and later retired as University registrar, once said that "it was a good fighting name of the time." Since the animal in the saying was thought more mythical than real, the spelling settled upon was "Bearkat."
In the late 1940s, then SHSU president Harmon Lowman attempted to change the SHSU mascot from Bearkats to "Ravens" (after General Sam Houston's Cherokee nickname). Mrs. Vernon Schuder reported that the alumni were polled, she voted for the raven but that "all those old Bearkats beat us out!"
SHSU had a live kinkajou mascot in 1952 but the animal did not adapt to captivity and quickly was released from his duties. The current Sammy Bearkat mascot character began appearing at SHSU sports events in 1959. (Special thanks to Paul Culp of the SHSU Library whose research made this article possible.)
Men's Basketball 0
Women's Basketball 0
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