UH Restores Campus Tradition—A Live Cougar Mascot—For Homecoming

Keeping their eyes on the pride won’t be hard for Cougars at this year’s homecoming. Alumni
revisiting the University of Houston will find a reinvigorated school spirit and a return to a decades-old campus tradition—a live cougar mascot.

For first time in 10 years, the university will bring one or two cougars to campus as part of the Oct. 24 homecoming celebration. Organizers are hoping to have not just any cougar, but one named Shasta on campus for that day. The cougar will appear at the festivities before the football team takes the gridiron against the Southern Methodist University Mustangs.

The cougar, which will be housed in a display trailer, will be the featured attraction at the annual homecoming parade. The parade starts at 3 p.m. on Cullen Boulevard and ends at Robertson
Stadium, where tailgating and other activities will take place. Fans will get another chance to see
the cougar and view a Shasta history display from 4-6:30 p.m. at the east side of the stadium.

“Every two or three years the idea of bringing a live mascot to campus surfaces,” said Elwyn Lee, vice president for student affairs and executive sponsor of this year’s homecoming. “Now, there’s a new level of excitement about the university due to the heightened interest in the football team, the enthusiasm generated by President Renu Khator’s effort to increase school spirit with Wear Red Fridays and the support of the city for our Tier-One aspirations. With that renewed school spirit comes more attention to school tradition, including a live mascot.”

That tradition dates to 1947, with the first live cougar dubbed Shasta. Since then, UH has owned four other cougar mascots. After Shasta V’s death in 1989, costumed students have posed as UH’s mascots Shasta and Sasha.

In June, homecoming committee members launched their efforts to bring a cougar back to campus after speaking with students, alumni and faculty, said Jay Jacoby, chair of the 2009 homecoming board.

“We decided to help get the ball rolling on the issue by putting the idea in more people’s minds by bringing a live cougar to the festivities before the homecoming football game,” Jacoby said.

After multiple agencies denied their requests, the board finally received assistance from the Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge. The refuge provides lifetime shelter for abandoned, abused
and neglected “big cats” with emphasis on tigers, lions, leopards and cougars.

“At one time, the refuge had both a Shasta and a Sasha cougar,” said Bruce Twenhafel, co-chair of the homecoming steering committee. “They informed us that Sasha recently died. Our goal is to have the one named Shasta in the cougar exhibit for homecoming; however, we are not guaranteed that. The Turpentine Creek staff will determine which cougar/cougars will make the trip based on his/their health and temperament.”

Two or three “handlers” from the organization will accompany the cougar from the refuge’s base near Eureka Spring, Ark., to the campus and during the parade and exhibition, Twenhafel added.

Additionally, the campus community and alumni will be treated to yet another bygone tradition if organizers have their way. The committee has invited past members of the Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity, which cared for the university’s previous live cougars, to serve as honorary guards, Twenhafel said.

“We are very excited about bringing a live cougar back to the University of Houston campus,” Jacoby said. “We are happy to make this available for Cougars young and old.”

Francine Parker