High school football has a unique place in Texas culture. Schools have selected a wide variety of symbols to serve as mascots for their athletics. Some are traditional symbols of strength, courage, and power like Corsicana’s Tigers, the Lions of Ennis and Blooming Grove, and the Eagles of Mildred and Fairfield. Some reflect toughness and tenacity like the Bulldogs of Rice Wortham, and Dawson, and the Bobcats of Kerens. Others come from local settings like the Roughnecks of White Oak, a town in the heart of the East Texas oilfields. Some seem to be a natural extension of the local community name such as the Gladiators of Italy and the Van Vandals.

Others are somewhat difficult to understand. For example, fans in Frost will gather on a sultry September evening to cheer for their Polar Bears. The Tom Cats of Tom Bean don’t sound very intimidating, while the Fighting Farmers of Lewisville seem more at home in a wheatfield than a football field. Some mascots have unusual stories related to how they were selected.

Some of the mascots have unusual stories related to their selection. For example, in 1915 a carnival was passing through central Texas when a hippopotamus escaped near the Williamson County community of Hutto. The animal took refuge in the mud and cool water of a nearby creek. When the carnival owners tried to retrieve him, the locals were impressed by the hippo’s fighting spirit, and decided to name their local high school teams for him. So fans from Hutto High cheer for their Fighting Hippos. Since Cuero bills itself as the Turkey capital of Texas, it is not surprising that their teams are called the Gobblers, while Rock Springs fans in central Texas where goats have long been important to the local economy root for the Rock Springs Angoras. The Sandies of Amarillo High took their name when an horrific sandstorm blew into town at kickoff time on a Friday night in 1922.

There are Spartans, Zebras, Dragons, Cowboys, all kinds of Indians, Yellowjackets, Hornets, Mules, and Mustangs. But the most unusual of all high school mascots belongs to Itasca High School, a small Hill County community, which chose for its mascot the Wampus Cat. When editors for frontier newspapers had a blank space to fill, they often created a tall tale. One of the best whopper writers was Don Biggers, editor of the Rotan Bill Goat. He invented a creature he called the wampus cat, a combination wildcat, badger, and wolf that terrorized Fisher County in Biggers’ articles. Every week he reported how locals hunted the creature, but all for naught, as he was too mean and too smart to be taken. So opposing teams should be aware when taking the field against Itasca, home of the Wampus Cats.

So whether it be Tigers, Lions, Bulldogs, Eagles, Bears, or Wampus Cats, you can bet fans of the local high school will be cheering their teams on to victory on Friday nights across Texas.

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Dr. Tommy Stringer is executive director of the Navarro College Foundation. His radio program, “Texas Legends,” airs at 6:55 a.m. weekdays on KAND Radio.

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