That's one crazy cat
The idea was to keep the somewhat "dorky, lovable" character but give it a more athletic image. Another goal: To create a costume that was easier to move around in.
Over the years, the University doubled up on Bobcat suits. The two costumes now in use allow for more appearances, an "airing out" after hot games -- and some fine trickery, says Tim Van Alstine, who worked in the athletics department for six years before becoming Western Illinois University's athletic director in 2001.
"Sometimes we'd bring in the game ball with a helicopter at the football games," Van Alstine says. "The Bobcat would be out on the field and two, three minutes later a helicopter appears and the Bobcat comes out of the helicopter."
Although the addition of a second suit and the more modern design certainly help, Vala has discovered that being the Bobcat isn't as easy as it may look. From the Convo on Homecoming weekend, she joined alumni at tailgate parties and dodged some fraternity members who tried to take her head off.
"I couldn't let that happen because there were too many kids around," she says.
Her predecessors faced their share of trials and tribulations as well.
At one away game at Miami, Weinberg began mocking the rival's mascot, which was an Indian at the time. But the Indian dance he intended as a joke wasn't taken that way.
"He came after me," Weinberg says. "But a couple of players who were warming up saw him coming and stopped him from jumping all over me."
Then there was the time Weinberg was in Huntington, W.Va., for an Ohio-Marshall football game. He walked to his car to get the costume and discovered that someone had taken the head. A call was placed to Marshall's president, who tracked down a list of suspects. Campus police there retrieved the head and returned it to Athens.
Weinberg calls being the Bobcat one of the high points of his life.
"It brings amusement. People sometimes take sports too seriously," he says. "I enjoy sports and I enjoy watching sports, but sometimes it's good to laugh."
One of Weinberg's successors, Dan Becker, BS '68, had some close calls as the Bobcat, too.
"I had to hide out at a friend's house in Oxford because the folks at Miami had a plan to kidnap me to keep me from showing up at the game," says Becker, a professor of allied health at Sinclair Community College and associate director of education at Miami Valley Hospital, both in Dayton, Ohio. He was the Bobcat from 1965 to 1967.
"Being the Bobcat is like a super, super fond memory," Becker says. "Now that I look back on it, I was homesick as hell my first year. Then I started doing that and it was like, wow. It just kind of set my personality.
"At the sports banquet my senior year," he recalls, "they presented me with a varsity jacket because they loved me so much. I got into the layup lines with them and did layups on the basketball court. I held the football for the kicker to warm up. I was all over the place."
"My mom came running up to me and said, 'Bobcat, give me a hug.' Then Dad came walking up, and Mom took pictures of us," Vala says, quickly noting that her father, Mike Vala, is a 1975 graduate of Ohio University.
Vala's antics as the Bobcat differ depending on the age of her crowd. For small children, she gets down on one knee and offers a hug to avoid scaring them.
The roughest crowd, she thinks, are the 7- to 9-year-olds, who latch on to her back or pull her tail. "They like the Bobcat," she says, "but they don't know how to interact with it.
"Then there are the 12- and 13-year-olds, who are too cool to pay attention to the Bobcat. That's when I make sure to go up to them and mess up their hair or something."
Former Bobcats share similar tales.
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