Shasta I, ca. 1952
|University||University of Houston|
|Origin of name||Student contest|
The origin of Shasta dates back to 1927 when John R. Bender, a former head football coach of the Washington State Cougars came to Houston. Because of his fondness for the animal, Bender decided it would be the name of his new teams. Later that year, the school newspaper actively used the name, and other student organizations followed.
In 1946, the cougar was named the official mascot by the University as Houston as it became involved in intercollegiate sports. The next year, the Alpha Phi Omega fraternity raised funds to purchase a live cougar for the university, and held a contest to name it. Among 225 other entries, student Joe Randol won the contest with the following submission: "Shasta (She has to). Shasta have a cage, Shasta have a keeper, Shasta have a winning ball club, Shasta have the best." The first runner-up was "Raguoc" (cougar spelled backwards).
From 1947 until 1989 a live cougar mascot was used. However, from 1989 until 2012, Shasta existed as only a costumed mascot. Although a current live mascot was adopted by the university through a partnership with the Houston Zoo, a costumed student is still used for game appearances.
Shasta I (1947–1962) was the longest serving Shasta. She was purchased in Mexico during the fall semester of 1947 by members of the Alpha Phi Omega fraternity. Student caretakers of Shasta were known as the "Cougar Guard", and were responsible for bringing the cougar to the football team's away games among other activities. Following her service as the University of Houston mascot, she resided at the Houston Zoo.
Shasta II (1962–1965) was the shortest serving Shasta, and was the first to live in "Shasta's Den" (a cage built for her) at the southwest corner of Lynn Eusan Park. It's said that she was retired so soon due to an unruly attitude. She later resided at the Houston Zoo.
Shasta III (1965–1977) was also known as "The Lady". She was featured in several commercials for the American Motors Corporation, but was forced to retire due to poor health.
Shasta IV (1977–1980) was also known as "Baby Shasta". She only served three years due to the difficulty in controlling her.
Shasta V (1980–1989) was the last female cougar of the original continuous line to serve as a live mascot for the University of Houston. After a kidney failure, she was put to sleep. After Shasta V, interim President George Magner ended the tradition of a live mascot at the university, until 2012.
Shasta VI (2012–Present) was announced as the first live mascot at the university since 1989, in partnership with the Houston Zoo. Prior to the current mascot, there was much debate as to whether or not the university should purchase another cougar. Those who opposed another live cougar often claimed that having a caged cougar was inhumane and dangerous. Shasta VI was born in September 2011 in the U.S. state of Washington, and was adopted by the university as a cub. Shasta's mother was killed in 2011, when a hunter shot her. After a search from the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, Shasta VI was rescued, and transported to the Houston Zoo on December 11, 2011. In March 2012, the University of Houston Alumni Association announced that the cub would be adopted.
Although the Shasta mascot costume has been a male since 1989, Shasta VI is the first male live UH cougar mascot. Shasta VI was vested in a ceremony for alumni on 24 March 2012.
From 1989 through 2012, the university chose not to purchase another live cougar, and Shasta only existed as a costumed mascot. During this time, although a live cougar appeared in University of Houston's "Learning. Leading." campaign named "Tigger", this cougar did not live on campus nor was it owned by the university. Another live mascot, Shasta VI was adopted in 2012 through a partnership with the Houston Zoo, but a costumed student is still used for game appearances. The costumed Sasha mascot eventually began making appearances with Shasta, and now the two are seen at many University of Houston events.
The Oregon Duck incident
During the 2007 football season opener game between the Houston Cougars and the Oregon Ducks at Oregon, the costumed Shasta became involved in a physical fight with Oregon's Donald Duck mascot. The duck attacked Shasta while Shasta was doing push-ups for total points after each touchdown in front of the Cougar fans at Autzen Stadium. Push-ups for the total points scored are a tradition for the University of Houston as well as Oregon. After finishing some push-ups, the duck mascot physically attacked Shasta, eventually taking the mascot to the ground. Shasta, actually portrayed by the football player Matt Stolt for the Cougars, tackled the duck and walked away. The duck answered by punching the Houston mascot in the face and then performing simulated lewd acts on top of the cougar.
The fight was captured by both amateur video and game cameras, and was subsequently posted on YouTube as well as being reported on by most major media organizations including ESPN. University of Oregon's mascot was suspended for their next game against Fresno State as a disciplinary action. It was never revealed what further penalty the student in the duck suit faced.
Early costumed Shasta poses with former university president Marguerite Ross Barnett during the 1990s
- "Traditions". Houston Cougars athletics. Retrieved 2007-07-30.
- Cougar pride. The Daily Cougar. Retrieved 18 September 2007.
- Stanton, Robert (2012-03-20). "UH Cougar pride takes center stage with new mascot". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 2012-03-21.
- "Houston Alumni Association Shasta VI Announcement". Website of the Houston Alumni Association. University of Houston. Retrieved 29 February 2012.
- Oregon mascot suspended. Houston Chronicle. September 14, 2007. Retrieved June 19, 2008