Houston Cougars Mascot History

    Houston's use of the Cougars as its mascot has been going on unofficially for nearly 100 years, after taking the name from another school.

    While many college football teams call themselves the Cougars independently, the Houston Cougars mascot history has the unique distinction of actually adopting the name from another collegiate program.

    Sharing its history with another team across the country thanks to a P.E. coach, let’s look at how the University of Houston came to be known as the Cougars.

    Who (or What) Is the Cougars’ Mascot?

    Whether an anthropomorphic costume or the previously used live version, Shasta has been the mascot since the school declared the Cougar its official symbol in 1946, coinciding with its first football season.

    A fraternity, Alpha Phi Omega, held a fundraiser to buy a live cougar, followed by a naming contest. Of the 225 entries, the winner was “Shasta (She has to). Shasta have a cage, Shasta have a keeper, Shasta have a winning ball club, Shasta have the best.”

    From 1946 to 1989, the school had five different Shastas before Houston ended the live mascot practice. Since then, various costumed mascots named Shasta have made appearances, along with another costume cougar companion named Sasha.

    In 2012, the university and the Houston Zoo came to an agreement on partnership on a live cougar housed at the zoo. The first version of zoo Shasta, sixth overall, lived until 2022, with another taking its place and currently residing at the Houston Zoo as Shasta VII.

    Why Is Cougar the Mascot?

    Houston didn’t have a football team until 1946 but unofficially adopted the Cougar as its mascot from the university’s inception as a junior college in 1927.

    Following the end of his career as a college football, basketball, and baseball coach, John R. Bender was a physical education instructor at Houston.

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    Coming from Washington State, he suggested school organizations, such as the volunteer football team he coached, use the Cougar as their mascot.

    The school newspaper went by “The Cougar,” leading to more student-led organizations doing the same. After 20 years of unofficially using it as their mascot, the Cougar was cemented as the school’s representative in 1946.

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