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Sunday, December 10, 2023

Activities & Organizations

Student ready to hang up Shasta suit after five years


The student who has portrayed Shasta for the last five years will be hanging up his suit this May when he graduates. | Justin Tijerina/The Cougar

When’s the last time you saw Shasta?

The beloved cougar makes appearances at all sorts of sporting events, including every football game and works to pump up the crowd and entertain audiences.

But what about the people who help make it happen? The UH students who work tirelessly for their fellow Cougars by donning Shasta’s furs and performing?

Like Sam, a supply chain & logistics technology senior who has performed as Shasta for the last five years and will be graduating in May.

Sam still recalls his initial, inexplicable desire to join the Shasta squad when he became was a freshman in 2011.

“I had the chance to move into Cougar Village 1 early, and my group leader played Sasha, and I became very interested for some odd reason and started asking her how she got that job and who was Shasta at the time,” Sam said. “I ended up having dinner with Bryan, who was Shasta during that time, and he introduced me to the mascot life. He let me go backstage with Shasta at a football game, and that’s where I fell in love.”

Learning to be Shasta wasn’t easy and was even discouraging at first.

“I probably tripped over 300 times,” Sam said, referring to the restricted vision that comes with wearing Shasta’s head.

What’s more, getting the walk just right – with all of Shasta’s signature swag – took practice. But Sam said that the costume has over the years become more like a second skin.

Over his career, Sam has traveled with the UH cheer team to National Cheer Association Competitions, and more recently joined the UH football team at the 2015 Peach Bowl. He also enjoyed other benefits, including access to otherwise off-limits areas and the opportunity to meet high-up University associates, in addition to free Nike gear and scholarships.

Many occasions turned out to be rewarding for Sam.

“My freshman year, I had the opportunity to play basketball with special needs kids to raise money for different charities, and seeing those kids’ smiles light up the room just made me feel so great about what I was doing,” he said.

Sam spends several hours at a time dressed up as Shasta, depending on the occasion. Basketball games require two hours each, whereas football averages four to five hours for each game.

“The most asked question I always get is ‘Is it hot in there?’ and the answer is always, ‘Oh my gosh, you have no idea.” Sam said. “The suit can get ridiculously hot, especially in the Texas heat. Imagine just wearing a full fur coat from head to toe and wearing it while jumping around and cheering for at least two hours, and think how much you would sweat.”

The mascots often compete in dance-offs with other mascots, stunt with the cheerleaders, and most of all, perform many, many push ups. The grand total for the 2015-16 season, Sam said, is 2,166 push ups.

As the UH power couple, Shasta’s other half, Sasha, said she will miss Sam and their time together.

“We just clicked,” Sara, one of the two students who play Sasha, said. “We realized that our connection out of the suit is just as valuable as it is in character. Now that I speak on it, the chemistry between us was remarkable. It was almost as if we were talking to each other, but even then, as mascots you’re not supposed to, so that was neat. It was kind of like mascotting with my twin.”

Sam said he has no plans of pursuing a career as a professional mascot in the future, but he’s not leaving the gig empty-handed, either.

“I plan to take the memories and ideas I have learned as Shasta to better myself in the future,” Sam said. “I find myself now as Shasta outside of the costume, someone with confidence who cannot be beaten and of course having fun along the way.”

Cheer coach and mascot instructor Jasmine Arnold said she will miss Sam as much as her senior students.

“It was a pleasure working with Shasta and watching him mature inside and outside of the suit,” she said. “(Sam is) someone who loves UH, (he’s) fun and outgoing.”

As Sam prepares to move on in the coming months, the mascot team needs dedicated, spirited, and bright UH students to take up his mantle.

This year, tryouts for the new mascot are being replaced with mascot workshops where students interested in taking on the role of Shasta can learn how to become a mascot and master his famous walk.

“Students that have never been a mascot before will not hinder the chances at becoming a mascot, they just need a great work ethic, a love for the University and school spirit,” Arnold said.

With graduation right around the corner and his time as Shasta almost up, Sam said he hopes students take advantage of the opportunities the University provides like he did five years ago.

“Get involved because if not, you won’t meet new people and won’t learn what others have to offer,” Sam said.

Sara said Sam will be greatly missed and that she was grateful for the time she got to spend with him.

“There’s no way he won’t be missed,” she said. “He’s that guy. We all love him, and we all love hanging out with him. To see him leave us is bittersweet. I’m glad…that we got to end the year with a bang. We killed it. Cheers to you, bro.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: The real name of the students that play Shasta and Shasta were both changed to “Sam” and “Sara” respectively, to protect their identity and honor University tradition.

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