Students under the costumes aren’t your everyday cats
The players are on the field, the cheerleaders are on the sidelines and the fans are in the seats. But at UH, the game can’t start without the mascots: Shasta and Sasha.
Since 1927, the cougar has become the mascot of all extracurricular activities and UH Athletics. UH had five live cougars from 1947 to 1989, but after Shasta V was euthanized for kidney failure, the mascot has been represented at athletic and University events by students in costumes.
Three students – Matt Stolt, Ashley Hess and Corey Shive – have shared the excitement and responsibility of being the mascots for UH.
Matt Stolt, a kinesiology junior, has dual roles on the football field. Stolt is a walk-on player on the football team
He started playing football as a freshman in high school, and is on the football practice squad. But on game day, instead of being on the sidelines, he becomes Shasta.
"I already talked to Coach Briles, and he likes the idea of me being mascot, but if I’ll be playing in the game that week then a band member will be Shasta," Stolt said. "I used to march in the band. I left marching to play football, but I won’t play in all the games, so I figured, ‘How else could I be involved?’"
Playing football has taught Stolt some qualities that will be useful.
"I’m probably one of the most conditioned mascots," said Stolt, who is ready for the push-ups the mascots do after each Cougar touchdown. "We’ll be scoring a lot of those."
Ashley Hess, who has been Sasha for the past three years, has supported UH athletes at countless events.
"We do as much we can," she said. "We do football, basketball, baseball and big events like a championship. We do anything we can get to."
Hess cannot imagine her college experience without being the mascot.
"I can’t give it up," she said. "I don’t think I could just be a student in the stands."
Since 2006, Hess has shared the role of Sasha with graduate student Corey Shive.
"It makes it a ton easier because being a mascot is a huge time commitment because everybody in the University wants you at some point," Hess said.
Shive earned a psychology degree in May and wants to continue her duties as Sasha while earning a doctorate.
"Even though I will be starting graduate school in the fall, continuing to support the University of Houston in this role remains a priority," she said. "I was in a marching band during high school, where all the†members worked together not for their own benefit, but for the benefit of the group. When I came to college, I realized that I wanted to find a way to contribute something to our University."
Being a mascot has not only allowed Shive to support the school, but has also been a significant part of her time as an undergraduate student.
"This experience has been invaluable to my own growth," Shive said.
For Shive, being a mascot requires time both on and off the field.
"It is great to be able to make a difference in the community, whether we’re cheering on the football team, posing for photos with fans or visiting a local children’s center," Shive said.
Game days are long: The mascots arrive at the stadium with the band and cheerleaders before lunch to prepare for the traditional pep rally and parade between Hofheinz Pavillion and Robertson Stadium before the game.
"In football, you just wake up, get dressed, sit in the locker room and do warm-ups. Shasta warms up with the band, eats and gets set up for the parade to get everyone pumped up," Stolt said. "This year, I’ll probably go out with the football team and do a little warm-up with them."
For Shive, attending the games as Sasha enables her to interact with fans and create enthusiasm for the crowd in a way that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.
"Running onto the field in front of the football team is a great way to get your adrenaline going for the game," Shive said.
During the game, the mascots are constantly busy, whether they are cheering with the cheerleaders or signing autographs for fans and doing anything they can to get the crowd excited.
The mascots agree that interaction with the fans is the best part of the job.
"Everyone says UH doesn’t have a lot of school spirit, but when you’re out at the game everyone knows who Shasta is," Stolt said.
For Hess, taking on the role of Sasha is one of the best parts of keeping the the school’s tradition alive.
"Nobody can replace the mascot," Hess said."You’re a symbol of the University."