Scratching Out an Identity

Mystique the goal of reimagined Klawz

View the gallery of the UNC mascot through the years

— Story by Chris Casey, photography by Barry LaPoint

KlawzMost bears go into hibernation in the fall and winter.

Then there’s Klawz.

The UNC mascot gets amped up in the fall, rousing the crowds at Nottingham Field and Butler-Hancock Sports Pavilion. And he gets more feisty as the year goes on.

This year, Klawz is more jazzed than ever. He debuted with a slimmer head, sleeker shoes and a super-sized personality. His new look was unveiled at the Bears’ season-opening football game on Sept. 3.

“We’re really just trying to up the persona of Klawz,” says Evan Welch, director of UNC Student Activities, which advises the mascot and cheerleaders. “There never had been any time or effort put into creating who our mascot is.”

Welch wanted not only an updated Klawz but a mascot with some built-in mystique and tradition.

Mascot auditions took place at an undisclosed location and were judged by a five-member panel. Klawz aspirants not only had to display kinetic flair and comedic antics, they were asked questions about how they would cultivate the mascot tradition and — all importantly — go about guarding the identity of Klawz.

Under intense pressure from this interviewer, Welch declined to identify even the gender of the student (or students) playing Klawz. He revealed only that Klawz is a fun-loving person (or persons) of mystery and runs with a personal handler at all public appearances.

Klawz is also ready for prime time, now that UNC is making a name for itself in Division I athletics.

“We need to have a mascot that can reflect where the school is going,” Welch says, noting the Bears’ success in reaching the NCAA men’s basketball tournament first round in Tucson, Ariz., this past spring. “If we’re going to be on CBS, we want to have a mascot that’s effectively and appropriately representing the university.”

UNC got input from members of the university community and broader Greeley community about Klawz’s personality.

“Most people thought Klawz was more of a lovable jokester bear, not a fear-inspiring salmon hunter,” Welch says.

UNC spent $4,000 on the new costume, which features darker fur and was made by Alinco, a mascot specialist company based in Utah.

The former Klawz costume was two years old and looked a bit ragged, Welch says.

“There was just a lot of wear and tear… and he was starting to suffer the consequences,” he says. “He’d been stuffed in and out of a hockey bag for two years.”

The new costume features a fan mounted inside the cranium, giving Klawz cooler conditions in which to perform his hijinks.

Also, the headpiece has a built-in hockey helmet, giving it a firmer fit.

“To do some more of the physical comedy the head was just too big,” Welch says. “If Klawz were to get into a dance-off with another mascot the head could come off. This [new head] will allow Klawz to do the physical aspect of being a mascot.”

Under the higher-profile bruin campaign, Welch hopes that at some point UNC will be able to offer a scholarship for Klawz and give his handlers customized T-shirts.

So, how will Klawz’s true identity be uncovered in the spring?

Other universities make a ceremony of this disclosure, such as the light-hearted approach at Virginia Tech. Nobody knows the identity of HokieBird until the student, always a senior, shows up at graduation wearing the orange bird legs under his or her gown.

It will be up to the cheer squad — this fall dubbed “The Keepers of the Klaw” — to determine how Klawz’s true identity is revealed.

“We’re trying to keep the authenticity and sanctity of the whole suit together while also letting the student body and community know who Klawz is so that person can get some recognition,” Welch says.

While Klawz’s schtick appears to be all fun and games, UNC is, behind the scenes, elevating the profile of the furry, non-hibernating jokester.

“The student body hasn’t perceived that there has been any mystique around it [in the past], and they are kind of liking that that’s been created,” Welch says. NV

— Chris Casey is a Denver freelance writer.

Mascot Through the Years

While the latest version of Klawz isn’t an overly intimidating bear, the fact is, UNC doesn’t have a tradition of fierce mascots.

Back when UNC was known as Colorado State Teachers College, the university’s mascot was, well, a chalk-wielding educator.

“Prior to 1925 we were the Teachers — the vicious, fighting teachers,” says Evan Welch, director of Student Activities. “In ’26, we became the Bears. At one point (the mascot) was a live bear, but he kept escaping.”

The live bear cub, “Warden,” was given to the school and made appearances at sporting events and parades. But Warden, according to University of Northern Colorado, The Campus History Series, had a penchant for eluding his handlers, “causing both panic and damage in the community.” So the peripatetic cub was sent back to Denver.

Warden became a human in a bear costume in 1928. In 1970, the UNC mascot took on the moniker “Mr. Bear,” replaced by “Bentley Bear” in 1979.

Early in the new millennium, UNC students were polled about a new name for the school mascot. Of the choices listed, “Klawz” was the most popular. Klawz made his first appearance at Nottingham Field on Aug. 30, 2003.

Photo Gallery:


A Note from Klawz
“I have always loved the energy and the spirit that the mascot embodies and wanted to be part of the sporting world. Klawz is a fan favorite obviously, and it warms my heart to watch little kids run at Klawz with their arms wide open ready for a true bear hug. It is also terrifying when the little league football players at each game think that Klawz is also a NCAA football player. He is really just trying to look good in the double zeros, but the embroidered name across the back of his jersey is something to be pretty proud of!”

— Klawz, whose true identity has been sworn to secrecy