Wild about Willie
Thanks to the efforts of math teacher Judy West, the THS mascot became a lot more lively in 1985. For the first time, a student wore a Wildcat costume to games.
Willie Wildcat makes his world debut during a spring 1985 Easter Seals fundraiser at Temple Mall. Lara Bertoleit, a THS National Honor Society member, is wearing the costume. Lara was the group’s top fundraiser that year and won the honor. In the photo, Willie leads a group of students in the Bunny Hop. Courtesy photo
By DAVID STONE, Our Town Temple
On a Friday night in the fall of 1983, Judy West was watching late-night football highlights on television. During a segment on Copperas Cove, something caught her eye.
“I was watching the Cove highlights, and it showed their mascot — a student in a Bulldog suit,” she said. “I thought: ‘Hmmm, why wouldn’t that work at Temple High?”
Temple had two bobcats — actual animals that had been stuffed by a taxidermist — that served as Wildcat mascots, and at least one was even carted to home games in a wagon. There was one in the band hall for years, and the other was in possession of THS cheerleaders and at one time it was kept in the high school office.
West, a math teacher and sponsor of Temple High’s National Honor Society chapter, started doing research on what it would take to bring a Wildcat suit to THS.
“The National Honor Society had done some fundraising for scholarship money, and we had enough extra to do something for the school,” West said during an interview this week. “We thought buying a mascot outfit might be a good thing.”
“I went to Jim Kerby, the principal at the time, and told him my plan,” West said. “I had talked to some students and National Honor Society officers, and they were behind the idea. Jim liked my plan, but he wanted me to clear it with the athletic director and cheerleader sponsor.”
“Of course, Bob McQueen was the athletic director, and Pam Hoelscher was mentoring the cheerleaders,” West said. “Both thought it was a great idea, and they decided I was the ideal person for the job.”
Being a cheerleader sponsor, Hoelscher had a cabinet full of uniform magazines. She gladly handed West a box full of inspiration.
“I started looking, and there were several Wildcat choices,” she said. “But the more I looked, the more it came down to a single option.”
West called the manufacturer with questions and was eventually offered the costume on a trial basis. She agreed, and the Wildcat-in-a-box arrived a few weeks later.
“I put the suit on to show the powers-that-be, and decided it might be fun to take a stroll through the student center during lunch hour,” she said. “No one knew about the suit, and I got a lot of double takes.”
And smiles. The Wildcat outfit was an immediate hit.
“I knew we wanted this, but I needed the company to make two changes,” she said. “First, the tail was way too long. It was a tripping hazard.”
“Also, the suit fastened in the back with Velcro strips and it kept coming apart. I asked if they could replace the Velcro with a strong zipper. They agreed to both alterations, and Temple had a new $400 mascot.”
Those original taxidermy “wildcats” were showing their age. The band hall cat had been presented to longtime music director Durward Howard in 1965, and it was occasionally placed on a wagon on game night. The cheerleader’s cat also traveled to Wildcat Stadium.
The stuffed cats were kind of cool, but did little to rev up the crowd as the Wildcats stormed toward the end zone. That would soon change.
Willie the Wildcat — the shorter-tailed, zipper-backed version — arrived at THS in the spring of 1985 and was first used at an Easter Seals fundraiser at Temple Mall. Willie led the crowd in a rousing rendition of the Bunny Hop.
“One of my National Honor Society members — Lara Bertoleit — had raised a lot of money that year,” West said. “I felt she deserved to wear the suit.”
The following fall, Willie joined the cheerleaders on the sidelines to root the blue-front, white-back Wildcats to victory.
“I had proposed the idea of naming the mascot through a fundraiser,” West said. “I thought suggestions could be made for a dollar. We could draw a winner and make a little money, but Willie was named outright. That was OK, ‘Willie’ probably would have been chosen anyway.”
Over the years, replacement costumes have come and gone, and Wilma Wildcat was later added to accompany Willie at the games.
“One of the replacement costumes came with a really fierce-looking face,” West said. “People didn’t like it — they preferred the friendlier version — and it was replaced.”
West has long-since retired from Temple High and has had little to do with costume selection since her original purchase. But, in 2017, she attended a fundraiser at Freddy’s Steakburgers.
“The Temple cheerleaders were holding the fundraiser and Willie Wildcat was there,” she said. “I paid $5 and had my photo taken with him.”
FYI: According to WildcatsMagazine.ni, there are six species of wildcats native to North America — the bobcat, lynx, jaguarundi, ocelot, cougar and jaguar.
Judy West wears the new Wildcat costume in 1985. Judy, a math teacher and National Honor Society sponsor, was the driving force in getting a costumed mascot on the sidelines at Wildcat Stadium. BELOW: About 32 years later, she had her photo taken with an updated Willie Wildcat at a THS cheerleader fundraiser at Freddy’s Steakburgers in West Temple. Courtesy photos
MONDAY | MAY 2, 2022
today’s best bet
Chick-Fil-A and The Beltonian Theatre present Mother & Son Date Night! Enjoy a movie with your favorite lady — Mom! Enjoy dinner, popcorn, a movie and photos. Featured show: The Lego Movie. 6 p.m.
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The ‘Voice of Central Texas’ went live in 1936. What was it? ANSWER IS AT END OF TODAY’S ISSUE
On this day in 1980, the Dallas Mavericks officially became the twenty-third member of the National Basketball Association, when owner Donald Carter's Dallas National Basketball Association, Inc., was awarded a franchise by NBA commissioner Lawrence O'Brien. Norm Sonju, the club's first general manager, had initiated the process of bringing professional basketball to Dallas in 1978, when he contacted Dallas mayor Bob Folsom. Together they put together a group of eight investors, headlined by the Carter family's Home Interiors and Gifts. Mayor Folsom and the city of Dallas also assisted by building the 17,007-seat Reunion Arena in downtown Dallas in 1979. Sonju hired Dick Motta, then the coach with the third highest number of wins in NBA history, as the team's first head coach. That first team had a record of 15 wins and 67 losses for the 1980-81 season.
TODAY’S TEMPLE TRIVIA ANSWER: KTEM Radio, known in its early days as “The Voice of Central Texas,” went on air in 1936 and for years was the strongest station in the Houston/San Antonio/Dallas triangle. That included the Austin stations.