Lee Roy, the 600-pound Bengal tiger, paces at the San Antonio Zoo.
“As Lee Roy’s piercing eyes are set on a goal, and as he pushes forward, gracefully placing one foot immediately in front of another, veering in neither direction nor looking back, thus does he symbolize our great school… We salute the Tiger Spirit of Trinity University.” - 1954 Mirage
During the early years in Waxahachie, Trinity’s sports teams were known as “the Trinitonians” or “the Presbyterians,” with a leashed bulldog pacing the sidelines, decked out in maroon and white. But in 1916, the Detroit Tigers, a major league baseball team, chose Waxahachie as the location of its spring training.
While there, coaches and other personnel from the Tigers watched Trinity baseball games and offered friendly coaching to the players. They even signed a Trinity pitcher, Chuck Watson, to play for a Detroit farm team. Eventually, the name stuck, and Trinity students began calling themselves “Tigers” in honor of the major league team. In September 1916, the first official mention of the University’s new mascot appeared in the Waxahachie Daily Light: “the Trinity Tigers will meet Tarleton on local gridiron in their first battle.”
While the Tiger was a mascot in name only at first, it sprung to life— literally—in 1953. Local builder and developer L.R. (Lee Roy) Pletz bought a Royal Bengal tiger, named after himself, and donated the animal to the San Antonio Zoo under the condition that he be available to Trinity for any activities requiring his appearance. The 650-pound tiger was believed to have been the largest Bengal tiger in captivity at that time.
Lee Roy made appearances at pep rallies and football games in a portable cage, escorted by members of the Bengal Lancers social club. And when Lee Roy had to retire from his duties, his girlfriend Queenie took over for him. For nearly a decade, Lee Roy and Queenie became a fixture at Trinity football games, taking a lap around the track (in a cage, of course!) after every Tiger touchdown.
In 1962, the 13-year-old Lee Roy passed away at the San Antonio Zoo. A Trinitonian article says that students “remember the scrappy mascot as a symbol of courage and fighting of the team.”
Pletz’s agreement with the San Antonio Zoo also stated that when Lee Roy died, one of his cubs would become Lee Roy II. So six months later, in September 1962 one of Lee Roy’s three cubs took over his mascot duties. He eventually retired from his duties in the early 1970s, after which Trinity decided to use a less dangerous, more cuddly version of the mascot—the LeeRoy you see today, inhabited by a human but nonetheless spirited.