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The wild history of ACU’s mascot

You all know Willie the Wildcat, but did you know ACU’s first mascot was an actual, live cat?

In 1923, Sam Cox of Ozona, Texas, donated a young bobcat that had been captured on his ranch near the banks of the Devil’s River to become the university’s first Wildcat mascot. Bob Thomas made his debut during the West Texas Fair and Rodeo parade, pulled through the streets by two huskies in uniform.


Willie the Wildcat poses with young visitors during ACU’s 2021 Homecoming.
Willie the Wildcat poses with young visitors during ACU’s 2021 Homecoming.

Photo by Scott Delony

Although the 1923 fair parade was a high spot in Bob’s young life, his days in captivity were numbered, and his post-parade demise was marked by a burial service on ACU’s North First Street campus, near Daisy Hall.

Bob was replaced by a taxidermy mount in 1924 but in January 1926, another live wildcat named Mrs. Bob Thomas was on the job, recruited to live in the back of the campus bookstore.

ACU’s Wildcat tradition has been celebrated for more than a century now, but if it weren’t for a student contest in 1919 we might be cheering the ACU Antelopes instead.

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), the mascot was chosen when students enthusiastically raised $6,300 to build and name a playing field for football, baseball and intramural sports. They also conducted a competition to name ACC’s mascot. Wildcats won the contest over Antelopes, and the home for ACC sports become known as Wildcat Park.

In 1979, The Students’ Association purchased a fur-and-latex Wildcat costume from a Cleveland-based company for $1,200, and Willy the Wildcat was born. The spelling was later changed to its current Willie.

Learn more about the mascots history in this ACU 101 primer the Wildcat mascot from ACU Today magazine.

– Robin Saylor

Oct. 26, 2021

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