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Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Campus

Spirit of Houston defines the core of UH’s character


Picture of school spirit groups, the mascot, the band and cheer and dance.

Responsible for drawing school spirit from the UH community are the groups under the Spirit of Houston. | Juana Garcia/The Cougar

Three fingers up, with the thumb holding down the ring finger in the air. The cheery rendition of the “Womp Womp” song echoing in the stadium. Splashes of red and white. A boisterous and loud chanting of “Whose House? Coogs House!” 

These are experiences anyone familiar with UH’s culture is likely to see. Cultivated by years of innovation, pride and rich tradition, the University’s school spirit is unique. 

Centered at the core of it, are students who actively make it possible to make sure the school is heard and seen.

However, school spirit doesn’t manifest by itself. In helping to draw out the camaraderie and call students to action is an organization called the Spirit of Houston

An umbrella term that represents the official spirit groups at UH, it includes UH Cheer teams, the Cougar Dolls Dance Team, the UH Mascots and the band.

Members of the Spirit of Houston provide their perspectives on how they strengthen the school identity of students and alumni .

UH Cougar Dolls Dance Team

Cougar Doll Dance Team member Thelma Medrano faces the audience during a halftime show. | Sean Thomas/The Cougar

Making themselves hard to miss in their black tights and bright red cropped tops, the UH Cougar Dolls Dance Team aims to entertain, energize and inspire the crowd with their routines. 

Often found performing at halftime during football and basketball games, anticipation grows for them to make their mark on the stadium floor when it’s time. 

Performing for the crowd with white and red metallic pom poms that sparkle across the room, audience members are entertained by their sharp and quick moves to an upbeat sound. 

Not only do they capture the attention of the audience, but also prospective members such as marketing junior Thelma Medrano.

A longtime dancer wrapping up her rookie year with the team, Medrano said she was drawn to the organization because of what it brings center stage. 

“The reason I was drawn to the Cougar Dolls is because we do a lot more hip hop, jazz, pom routines, and I was drawn to that style,” she said.  “And it was such a diverse team, and that was really what caught my eye. Seeing its diversity, I wanted to be a part of it.”

Since joining, Medrano’s days with the Cougar Dolls have consisted of teamwork, active practice and utilizing time management to juggle responsibilities with school, dance and work.

“For practice, we work on team bonding and work on what’s up and coming,” Medrano said.“Usually, if we have a performance that week, that’s what we’re focusing on that week. As far as game days, you know, it’s kind of like the same thing. For basketball, we have game days during the week. And so we do school and work, and then we go straight to the game. We get ready, and then we will just have to focus those four to five hours on game days.”

While challenging, Medrano notes how her job and coaches of the Cougar Dolls have been accommodating, allowing her to quickly adapt. Members of the team are given time off, colloquially coined as “study days,” where they take care of things they need to do, including self care.

Although it keeps her busy, the pride she carries for UH and the upholding the legacy of previous Cougar Dolls members keeps her motivated.

“It can be a lot of pressure, but it’s nice knowing that the school relies on us for that energy,” Medrano said.“Being on the dance team has provided me with a lot of memories. I’m so grateful we get the opportunity to travel with our sports teams and be a part of that audience and cheer them on. So, I definitely encourage students, if they can, to go to the games. Be loud, be proud, because these are memories that we’ll never get back.”

UH Marching Band and Cougar Brass 

Armed with years of experience playing saxophone, UH Cougar Brass member Owen Bradford (center) helps in bringing school spirit to UH musically. | Sean Thomas/The Cougar

Tasked with filling people’s ears with classic UH songs, is the band. Within the Spirit of Houston, the group is composed of the UH Marching Band and the Cougar Brass.

The marching band primarily plays for football games, while the Cougar Brass plays for indoor sports events, including basketball and volleyball.

Heavily concentrated in the student section during game day or marching around the field with choreographed performances, the groups help in promoting the spirit of the University through its instruments.

Behind the scenes, plenty of time is dedicated to practicing the songs audience members anticipate, according to saxophone member and anthropology senior Owen Bradford. Practice varies day to day, with students going to classes for the day and meeting up to play afterward. 

In the UH marching band, members are split up by instrument type and endure rehearsal for hours at a time before converging as the whole band.

“It’s just kind of no frills, we go in, rehearse and we’re done,” Bradford said. “And then on game day, it’s typically we get there (the stadium) six hours before the game kicks off, have a rehearsal, eat some lunch, do the Cougar Walk and then get all dressed up to head out to the tunnel for the pregame.”

A member of the band throughout his time at UH, Bradford joined with several playing experiences under his belt from high school.

His high school band instructors were once members of the Spirit of Houston, which further influenced his decision of auditioning and playing for the organization for the past four years.

Since joining, Bradford has had the pleasure of channeling the school pride he feels through the music he plays. The aspect of being and feeling involved, whether it may be in games or pep rallies, motivates him to dedicate his all to what he does.

“Other than being in the student section, there is no other way to support the University than being in the band because you’re at pretty much every event, doing things that aren’t even athletics related,” Bradford said. 

“We’re involved in the football games, we’re involved in the basketball games and you’re making a difference because you’re making the sounds, you’re injecting some excitement into the game and you’re showing what it means to be a true fan of the program,” he continued.

UH Mascots: Shasta and Sasha

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Typically found at University events, UH Mascots Shasta and Sasha are UH personified. 

Whether it may be showing its dance moves on Tik Tok, starring in a comedy sketch or posing with kids for a picture, the mascots aim to bring an experience to people by building positive connections. 

With a team of people working to bring the cougars to life, only a select few can know of those behind the uniform. As part of a tradition, the names of the performers are kept anonymous until graduation day.

Despite living in a modern day “Gossip Girl,” some of the performers describe their experience as the mascots as fun. 

Filled with opportunities to meet with other well known mascots, create content for the University’s social media and make notable connections with people, Shasta and Sasha said these moments make the job memorable.

“The fun opportunities that you get to be a part of (with) this team are absolutely the best parts,” Sasha said.“We got to participate with huge mascots like Toro and Orbit and stuff regularly because our team is put together by Megan (Brown), our coach, so well that these people want to work with our team, which is super cool to be a part of and experience.” 

Maintaining public appearances is a big part of the job, where it requires plenty of energy from the performers. On all day events like game day for football and basketball, all hands are on deck from those in the suit and out of it. 

“Well for me, you really just have to love it,” Shasta said.“When you are tired, you kind of have to like, think of things that could be lost without you, if that makes sense. So for me, you don’t know what impact you could not be having when you are taking your break. And so the longer you’re out there, the more people you interact with, the more likely that you’re having a bigger impact in that way.”

For Sashta, he views wearing the suit as an honor. As someone who actively looks at ways to tie in the attributes of the University’s spirit with the mascot, he cherishes the work he does.

“The responsibility kind of follows you, like in suit and out of the suit,” Shasta said. “There definitely is an expectation of Shasta and Sasha to be in places and to raise that school spirit. It’s funny that even when they’re not dancing, or doing their thing, I feel like they still raise school spirit despite being there. Like if Shasta and Sasha are at an event, it immediately makes it more prestigious. You know what I mean? They just liven up the party.”

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