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Calling all Bobcats

Patrick Donadio, BSC '80 and MBA '81, is compiling a list of former Bobcat mascots in hopes of organizing a future reunion. If you donned the costume during your college days, contact him at Patrick
@PatrickDonadio.com
or (614) 488-9164.

That's one crazy cat - an unauthorized bio of Ohio Univ.'s mascot by Joan Slattery Wall

At least 150 people posed for pictures with sophomore Jenny Vala at October's Homecoming football game. And she shook hands with or gave high-fives to hundreds more. Then there were the hugs -- she had lots of them for young and old alike.

The secret to Vala's stardom? Her alter ego.

Alan Weinberg, BBA '64, poses in the first Bobcat costume with its designer, Thomas Schantz, BFA '64.

Photo courtesy of Archives and Special Collections

An outdoor education major, Vala is one of three students portraying the Ohio University Bobcat mascot this year. And she has some big (and furry) boots to fill: Dozens of past students have played the famous cat since its campus debut 43 years ago. The duds may have changed a bit, but fans' affinity for the Bobcat sure hasn't.

Vala's preparations for Homecoming began the day before the big game, when she started downing "a ton of water and Gatorade" to help her weather the hot suit. On Saturday, she dressed in the lightest clothing she could find -- except for the tall, thick athletic socks that protect her shins from chafing in the Bobcat boots. In a closet in the Convocation Center, the Bobcat suit was airing out from its most recent appearance. First she put on the "fat ring," which gives the Bobcat its girth, then the furry suit, then the green Attack Cat T-shirt, then the paws and, finally, the cat's head.

Some alumni may say Vala has it easy. Today's Bobcat costume is much more wearer-friendly than the first, purchased in 1960 by residents of Lincoln Hall. Thomas Schantz, BFA '64, who designed the Bobcat, sent patterns to France to have its head made of papier-mache and to companies in Philadelphia to sew its sweater and furry body. It was redesigned after its 21st birthday (because it was worse for all the wear) and again in the late '90s (because of some unfortunate incidents when it was mistaken for, well, a mouse). The tradition that a male student portray the Bobcat ended in 1995, when a female student won the tryouts. So now it's called "Bobcat" instead of "Mr. Bobcat."

BobcatMore Bobcat tales

"Bobcats" became the first Ohio University team nickname in 1925 after a contest in which student Hal Roland won $10 for submitting the winning moniker.

The "BobKitten" joined the Bobcat off and on over the years. The female mascot, who wore a cheerleading outfit and a cat-shaped head, was sponsored at various times by Howard Hall and the Chi Omega sorority.

In 1940, Bob Crosby gave the University a live bobcat he received from an admirer of his popular swing band, The Bobcats. When the 40-pound cat, forebodingly named Omen, became increasingly unsociable within a few months, word spread that he might be stuffed after his death and placed in the Men's Gym trophy case. An alumnus, the late Daniel Wertman, BSJ '39, came to Omen's rescue and contacted the Cleveland Zoo, which adopted the cat. It died later that year after an apparent poisoning.

Alumnus Richard Widdis, BBA '63, and his wife, Molly, purchased a live bobcat for the Columbus Zoo in 1984 and had a plaque installed claiming it for Ohio University. The animal, named Paws, had been found in Kansas by a rancher. Paws died in April 2002.

Although endangered in Ohio and of a solitary, territorial and elusive nature, real bobcats (lynx rufus) are still on the prowl. From 1970 to June 2001, there were 49 verified sightings of bobcats in the state (30 of those since 1990), mainly in the eastern half, says Lloyd Culbertson, wildlife research technician with the Ohio Division of Wildlife. Plans are in the works for closer monitoring of the animals, which are about the size of a cocker spaniel and weigh 10 to 30 pounds. Bobcats live in much of the country. In states as close as Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Kentucky, the bobcat is a game species legal for hunting and trapping; it's listed as endangered in Ohio because it still is rebuilding its numbers here.

Dan Nichols, BSED '63 and MED '66, of Akron, Ohio, was the first official Mr. Bobcat. His job was to work with the cheerleaders to get the crowd enthused at football and basketball games.

"You can imagine being down there on the field and cavorting around in 80-, 85-degree temperatures with all that on. It was very warm," he remembers. "I bet I lost 15, 20 pounds every game."

Nichols actually got to wear the costume by default: He had to pinch-hit for another Lincoln Hall resident who sprained an ankle. A sophomore when he first played the Bobcat, Nichols didn't relinquish the suit until the middle of his senior year.

"We were a very forward group of men in Lincoln that came in there for the first year. We really wanted to start tradition and make ourselves known," says Nichols, now dean of students at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron.

The second Mr. Bobcat, Alan Weinberg, BBA '64, lives in Atlanta and is a principal with the business consulting firm of Ernst & Young. He recalls another tradition: The student portraying the Bobcat was to remain anonymous.

"My wife remembers," he says, laughing. "I usually never took the head off, and really nobody knew who the Bobcat was. We played the first football game in 1963 at home, and it was extremely hot. I was getting ready to faint. So I took the head off, and she was very disappointed."

Around 1980, the men of Lincoln Hall realized the Bobcat costume was really beat. They decided to hold a 21st birthday celebration in 1981 as a fundraiser for a new costume. The men collected more than $1,000, and the athletics department paid the balance of the nearly $2,000 cost.

"It was a tough decision," says Patrick Donadio, BSC '80 and MBA '81, who played the Bobcat and later served as the program's adviser while he was a resident director in grad school. "A lot of people didn't want to change the Bobcat."

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