Then and Now

Sammy and Samantha the Bearkats provide team support and humorous antics at sports events and other public functions relating to the university, but just what is the story behind SHSU’s mascots.

Mascots have their origin in ancient rituals where men would dress up and dance around totem poles or other sacred relics out of belief that the power of the animals would be transferred to the wearer. The ancient people treated such “animals” as good luck symbols and were worshipped during the harvest season to bring good crops.

In the late 19th Century, college campuses began to introduce mascots to sports teams. Often these mascots were real animals, although most colleges abandoned this practice due to the high cost of caring for the animals. Real animals were soon replaced by people in animal costumes, a tradition that still continues to this day in most different levels of sports.

In 1923, Sam Houston State Teacher’s College chose “The Bearkat” as the nickname for all the school’s teams. The actual bearkat is the South American kinkajou, though it was probably not the basis for the animal that the school had in mind, which was actually a fictional creature that derived from a local saying “tough as a Bearkat.” Despite this, SHSU did briefly have a live kinkajou as a mascot in the early 1950s, but quickly returned it to the wild when it did not adjust to captivity.

SHSU created Sammy the Bearkat in 1959, and added Samantha in 1986. In that time, numerous students have portrayed the school mascot over the years.

Senior Patrick Gardenier is one of the latest students to don the Sammy costume. One of two students charged with entertaining fans at public functions, Gardenier is the head mascot for the school’s Spirit Program.

“This is my fourth year, so basically, if someone has seen Sammy in that time, it’s probably been me,” Gardenier said.

Sammy has undergone several changes over the years, finally taking his current incarnation in 1997. Gardenier said the current costume is in improvement over what he called “the ugly Sammy.” He added that Samantha has improved as well with the update.

“She used to be pretty ugly too,” Gardenier joked.

Students fill the Sammy and Samantha positions after being chosen during a tryout. Gardenier said students must fill out an application and are given a minute to impress judges with a comedy routine.

Those students who are selected to become Sammy or Samantha perform at school and community functions, make appearances at places such as day cares and talent shows and are required to promote school spirit.

The costume weighs about 15 pounds, though Gardenier said it could feel like it weighs more by the end of the night. The temperature alone can be a crucial factor affecting the costume environment.

“Whatever the temperature is at the performance location, it’s going to be 40 degrees hotter in the suit,” Gardenier said.

Because of problems relating to heat, Gardenier often has to switch with the other student assigned the Sammy position.

“Usually we’re not going to be in the suit for more than an hour,” he said.

Sammy and Samantha both have distinct looks and attitudes. Sammy swings his arms and jerks his knees while walking, often running around or hitting on the ladies in the crowd. He often times mocks referees and other officials during games.

Samantha is kinder and swings her hips while strolling through the crowd. She wears a dress and has a bow in her hair. Samantha does not usually appear as often as Sammy, but when they do show up they’re supposed to appear as an item.

Not that fidelity is a major concern to Sammy. Gardenier said that Sammy often eyes President James Gaertner’s wife at public events.

“Sometimes I go ahead and steal his wife from him,” Gardenier said.

He said the tradition began a few years ago at a Party on the Patio, and most recently during a Christmas ceremony last year.

When not making a move on the ladies, Sammy sometimes clashes with other mascots. Gardenier recounted an incident his first year when he got in a fight with the Cowboy mascot from McNeese State University. During an unscheduled interaction between the mascots, Sammy swiped the cowboy’s guns and ran off with them. When the cowboy recovered one of his cherished firearms, he tried to “shoot” Sammy with it.

Though he is and plans to remain a criminal justice major, Gardenier hopes that he can become a professional mascot one day. As for now, he is perfectly content being Sammy’s alter ego.

“I come to school to mascot,” he said.

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