Why are we the Wildcats?

Noah Hausmann

Have you ever wondered how Northern became the Wildcats? Or what is a wildcat, anyway?

re-Old Wildcat Willy-2It’s a generic term for any kind of feral feline, including a bobcat that once used a human toilet. NMU’s mascot sure has had one heck of a hazy and colorful past.

Northern wasn’t always the home of the Wildcats. It took a while to settle on the name.

As early as October 1904 during their first football game, Northern was known as the Teachers, since NMU was then called Northern State Normal School, a college mainly training teachers.

As the years passed, so did the names. The Upstaters, the Normalites, the Northernites and the Northerners, all names we held before becoming the Wildcats, according to “A Sense of Time: The Encyclopedia of Northern Michigan University” by Russell Magnaghi, a former NMU history professor and university historian.

Then, in 1935, as coach C.B. Hedgcock prepared his basketball team for the season, he announced that his man-to-man defensive unit would be called the Cubs and those playing the zone defense would be known as the ’Cats.

“Hedgecock [sic] is quoted in a 1937 letter as saying, ‘In man-to-man you have to be quicker, because the cubs are the natural offspring of wildcats, bobcats, any kind of cat when they’re younger, the man-to-man unit will be known as a Cub, while members of the older, more methodical zone defense group will be known as the Cats… the Wildcats,’ Hedgcock said,” according to a 1998 September issue of The North Wind.

The character of Wildcat Willy was created by the Chi Sigma Nu Fraternity back in the 1960s, according to “A Sense of Time,” and was present at football and basketball games throughout
the ‘70s. Willy didn’t become a formalized character until 1984 to ’89, when Jay Maquillan, a student, wore the mascot suit and Rick Comely was the NMU hockey coach.

The two saw the mascot as a way to raise team spirits, and Willy has been a model of enthusiasm ever since.

But our mascot wasn’t always some guy in a suit. In October 1970, a 38-pound female bobcat named Bobby was bought for $500 from a Toronto resident with funds donated by the Student Activities Committee and the Area Training Center in Marquette.

The bobcat lived in a cage attached to the power plant behind Spooner Hall. Bobby was fed a pound and a half of raw meat per day, according to an October 1970 issue of The Northern News, NMU’s student newspaper at the time.

But wait, it gets weirder.

“…we are informed that Bobby goes to the bathroom in a most unorthodox fashion, with regard to any ordinary Bobcat. Approximately one hour after each meal she sits on the toilet, a practice to which most of us can readily relate, supporting herself on her front legs all the while,” The Northern News reported.

In 1998, The North Wind ran a feature on Bobby. The newspaper said the mascot took its first road trip in 1971 when it traveled to Central Michigan University with the NMU cheerleaders in their van for a football game.

After returning to Marquette, Bobby escaped from her cage. A local radio station set up a hotline for area residents to call if they saw the loose animal.

Eventually, the radio station received a call from workers at the ore dock. Bobby’s caretakers checked it out and found a cat on the dock.

“They followed it out to the end of the dock until the cat had no place to go,” Andrew Wasilewski, previous University Center director reported to The North Wind in 1998.

“It was cold and ornery by then, but they got it in the cage and took it to the vet. That’s when they discovered it wasn’t the same cat.”

Bobby was eventually recaptured near Lower Harbor.

After this incident, the animal was returned to its owners, and NMU has not had a live wildcat since.