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Saturday, November 28, 2020

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All you need to know about Shasta’s history


Shasta's birthday month is coming to an end, yet some students still may not know that it even happened. | File photo/The Cougar

Shasta’s birthday month is coming to an end. | File photo

As Shasta VI celebrates his eighth birthday this September, a look into the history of the University of Houston’s wildest tradition shows the influence the fierce feline mascot has had. 

Shasta, UH’s cougar mascot, has been a symbol of the University since 1947, when a mountain lion was purchased from Mexico by members of the Alpha Phi Omega fraternity. The fraternity held a “Name the Mascot” competition, and student Joe Randol won with the entry “Shasta.”

“Shasta (she has to). Shasta have a cage, Shasta have a keeper, Shasta have a winning ball club, Shasta have the best,” Randol said in his written submission for the competition. 

A group of students known as the Cougar Guard was formed to care for Shasta, and she was brought to football games to help pump up students and fans.

UH’s school history became intertwined with its tradition of Shasta. In 1953, Shasta I was injured on her way to a football game in Austin. Her toe became caught in a cage door and was severed. 

University of Texas students caught wind of the cat’s wound and imitated it by folding their thumbs over their ring fingers in order to take a jab at the Cougars, who lost the game 28-7. After later, more successful matches against the Longhorns, UH football fans embraced the hand gesture as a sign of school pride

Between 1947 and 1989, five live female cougars held the position of UH’s mascot. 

The University constructed Shasta’s Den, a cougar enclosure, on the southeast corner of Lynn Eusan Park after adopting Shasta II. Shasta’s Den was home to Shasta II and later, her successors, Shasta III, IV and V. Shasta III and V were retired due to health issues, while Shasta II and IV were both retired due to unruly behavior. 

After Shasta V’s death in 1989, UH decided not to adopt a new live mascot, opting instead for costumed students to carry on the tradition of Shasta on game day in place of the live cougars, a custom that has persisted to this day.

While the live cougar mascots had all been female, the costumed Shasta wears a football uniform. In 1995, the University introduced Sasha as the female cheerleader counterpart to the costumed Shasta. 

The University continued on without a live mascot, with students debating over the pros and cons of adopting a new cougar. 

In 2011, the Houston Zoo took in an orphaned cougar cub whose mother had been illegally shot and killed in Washington state. Within a few months, the UH Alumni Association and the Houston Zoo entered a partnership, and in 2012, the cub became known as Shasta VI. 

Shasta VI became the University’s first live mascot since 1989 as well as the first live male cougar mascot. Shasta VI lives at the Houston Zoo, which UH students can visit for free. Before the biannual ring ceremonies, class rings spend the night in the cougar habitat with Shasta. 

Students, alumni and Houstonians can contribute to Shasta’s care by texting “Shasta” to 71777  to donate $8 for Shasta’s birthday.

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