Wildcat 101: A primer on our fightin’ mascot

There’s some big news coming from Abilene Christian University athletics next Friday. In the meantime, here are some facts you might want to know about our Wildcat mascot:

Lacking a live mascot, this stuffed wildcat was a fill-in at a football game played at Fair Park.
  • According to No Ordinary University: The Story of a City Set on a Hill, the 1998 ACU history book by Dr. John C. Stevens (’38), ACU’s mascot was chosen in 1919 when the intercollegiate sports of football and baseball – plus intramurals – needed a place to play. The A Club challenged others on campus to join a fundraising contest for the privilege of naming a new proposed playing facility near the North First Street campus. The West Texas Club won, so 14 years after Abilene Christian was founded, the college became known as the Wildcats, and their new athletics facility, Wildcat Park. Students raised $6,300 – an astounding figure for that day – to purchase the land for Wildcat Park, which was located across the railroad west of the campus.
  • The students in the winning West Texas Club chose Wildcats but their second choice was Antelopes. Both animals were native to West Texas.
  • A wildcat (Felis silvestris) is native to Asia, Africa and Europe. In North America, however, it is a common name representing the lynx (Lynx canadensis) and the bobcat (Lynx rufus), among others. Come to think of it, if Willie the Wildcat ever needs a sidekick, Rufus the Wildcat has a nice ring to it and the shout-out to the mascot’s binomial nomenclature (its scientific name) would make the biology department smile.
  • The first Wildcat mascot at ACU actually was named Bob Thomas, donated to coach Victor Payne in 1923 by Sam Cox, who captured the young animal near his home of Ozona, Texas. The Optimist student newspaper reported, “The specimen is a good one and serves the local teams as an ideal mascot, being entirely peaceable until molested and then giving vent to unrestricted wrath in a noisy manner …” In his book, Stevens wrote, “Unfortunately, captivity was not a good thing for young Bob. Within a year he was dead. He was buried ‘with pomp and ceremony’ on the campus. Dean (Henry) Speck and several students made talks.”
  • In 1920, students on the North First Street had no indoor place to play basketball, so they used an outdoor court with a wooden floor and screen/wire cage around it. They called it Wildcat Cage, and sans seating, fans simply stood around the perimeter of the fence. Actually, it was common at that time for outdoor basketball courts to be surrounded in such a way. The wire wall kept balls from heading out of bounds, where players followed rules allowing possession to “first come, first serve” on wayward passes and shots, even if it meant wrestling fans for the ball. Keeping spectators out of the chaotic battle for possession between “cagers” – as basketball players were known, served a humanitarian as well as competitive purpose.
  • The first game in Wildcat Gym, a structure now part of headquarters for Global Samaritan Resources on North First Street, was played in 1925.
  • The Big Purple Marching Band was first known as the Wildcat Band. In 1939, they were invited to march in the inauguration parade of Texas governor W. Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel, who knew good music when he heard it. A few years earlier, O’Daniel hired his own band, the Light Crust Doughboys, to sing on a radio show and promote the flour-milling company he owned. One of the musicians in the group was western swing music icon-to-be Bob Wills.
  • ACU begins play in Fall 2013 as a member of NCAA Division I and the Southland Conference. Ten other NCAA Division I colleges and universities also have Wildcats as an athletics mascot: Arizona, Bethune-Cookman, California State-Chico, Davidson, Kansas State, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Northwestern, Villanova and Weber State.
The Wildcat Band included a bass drum with a wildcat painted on it.
Prior to 1925, the men's basketball team played outdoors in the Wildcat Cage on the North First Street campus.
A wildcat was displayed on track and field warmup suits in the early 1950s.
Today, the Wildcats are represented by Willie at games, parades and special events.


3 responses to “Wildcat 101: A primer on our fightin’ mascot”

  1. Charles Marler Avatar
    Charles Marler

    Who was Willie the Wildcat in 1994-95, 1995-96, 1996-97, 1989-99, 1999-00, 2000-01, 2001-02, 2005-06? We know who wore the Willie costume in all other years. Charlie Marler. charlie.marler@acu.edu

  2. joe c Avatar
    joe c

    Super cool! Willie is my hero!

  3. John Avatar

    Wild cat rocks from 1950, my grandpa’s friend was a member too..
    nice to read these posts.. thanks for sharing 🙂

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