The Great Bear Sighting

Large black bear with two cubs spotted at far end of soccer practice field


An arrow points to the black bear (circled) on Thursday at the far end of the soccer practice field. The image is a screen shot from a security camera at the Cantrell Lower School.

Donna Kay McGoldrick wasn’t sure she believed reports of a bear being spotted near Stratford Academy’s campus on Wednesday.

But, on Thursday, she saw it with her own eyes.

“I’m convinced it’s either a bear or Bigfoot” said Mrs. McGoldrick, human resources director at Stratford.

A large, female, black bear, was observed with her two cubs around noon by a third-grade class at the edge of the  soccer practice field.

Jack Eubanks, a student in Mrs. Sloan Walthall’s class, was the first to notice the animal on the other side of a chain-link fence.

“I thought, ‘That’s some strange dog,’’’ Jack said. “I could tell it was a bear when it stood up on its back legs.’’

Mrs. Walthall said she had her doubts about the story when Jack first approached her.

“Jack got really serious and turned around and said ‘ No, Mrs. Walthall you need to look right there, that’s a bear,’” she  said. “When Jack saw it, (the bear)  was standing up. But, by the time I saw it, (the bear) was sitting on its back legs. I could tell by sitting on its back legs it would be up to my chest.”

Mrs. McGoldrick was eating lunch around 12:45 p.m. on Wednesday when she got a call from the Lower School office. She admitted she was more than a little surprised.

“I’ve been called for snakes and dogs and feral cats,’’ she said. “But never a bear.”

She notified the Bibb County Sheriff’s office, which quickly dispatched deputies to the campus. Authorities from Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources also were contacted.

“Law enforcement came quickly with lights and sirens, but by that time bear had gone”, Mrs. McGoldrick said. “They knew something had been there because you could still see the tracks.’’

Later Wednesday, the academy’s maintenance staff installed hunting cameras in the wooded area of the school’s 114-acre campus.

Just when you think you’ve seen all that there is to see at a school, you haven’t.”

— Dr. Bob Veto

Mrs. McGoldrick could make out the image of the bear on the surveillance camera on top of the Cantrell Lower School building. She said the video was blurry, but she could “zoom in’’ and see a “big, black blob.’’ She said it was so tall it “towered over the fence.’’  She said she didn’t see the cubs, but there was “some movement’’ which could have been the cubs.

Although Mrs. McGoldrick initially was skeptical, she knew that Jack would not tell a tall tale about a tall bear.  She knows him well. He is her grandson.

“He’s a very matter-of-fact young man,’’ she said. “ He doesn’t make things up, and he’s fairly knowledgeable about the outdoors.’’

Although Mrs. Walthall’s husband and his family are avid outdoorsmen, she said the only time she has seen a bear was “in the zoo.’’

The DNR estimates there are about 300 black bears living in Middle Georgia. Mrs. McGoldrick said a few years ago a parent who walked the cross country trail and saw what looked like bear paw prints.  She said Mr. Mike Kelley, chairman of the history department and boys lacrosse coach, told her he saw a bear on the cross country trail this past summer.

“The good thing about this location was the soccer field is completely fenced in, and this bear was on the other side of the fence,’’ Mrs. McGoldrick said. “Unless the bear decided to climb the fence, those children were safe because they’re not allowed to go any farther than halfway down the soccer practice field.

“A mama bear with her cubs is going to protect her cubs,’’ she said. “She is not going to want to bring her cubs where there is possible danger so she will not come after you unless she feels like you are coming after the cubs.’’

Mrs. McGoldrick said Mrs. Walthall immediately instructed her students to go inside.

“I don’t think (the children) were scared,’ she said. “ I don’t think they felt threatened because the bear was on the other side of the fence. The teacher was more alarmed than the students because she felt the responsibility to get the children to safety.’’

Mrs. McGoldrick said she talked to a representative from the DNR on Thursday about the situation.

“They said we need to remove any food sources and keep any (outside) garbage away because that is what a bear comes looking for,’’ she said. “We are going to try to be diligent about that.’’


Head of School Dr. Bob Veto, who has been an educator and administrator for more than 40 years, said the largest animal he ever has seen on a campus where he has worked has been a deer.

“Just when you think you’ve seen all that there is to see at a school,’’ he said. “You haven’t.’’