by Jeannette Gano
photography by Isela Peña
Lions, tigers and bearcats, oh my! They hang from classroom ceilings; they are on T-shirts, floor mats, and they bounce around at assemblies. They are school mascots, and all of the schools in the Bonita Unified School District have one. Eagles are at Allen Avenue Elementary School, road runners at Grace Miller, raccoons at Roynon and owls at Oak Mesa.
The schools have costumed their mascots. At Oak Mesa, some children are convinced that Joe, the custodian, is Ollie the Owl, who flaps around at school assemblies. They approach the mascot and whisper, “Hi Joe.” But Ollie the Owl is not Joe; it is actually Joanne Taylor, PTA mother of two students at the school. She has been donning the Ollie the Owl costume for the past three years. Taylor says she has had her tail feathers pulled, her stomach punched and has been tugged and hugged countless times. Those students scared of the owl find it necessary to walk as far around her as possible; others offer to bring Ollie roadkill for breakfast. Taylor listed reasons why other mothers should dress as the owl: “To find out whether your sweat glands are working properly, to get your picture in the yearbook more than anyone else, to get to hold hands with Mr. Milligan (the school principal) and because the children love him.”
Allen the Eagle is the mascot at Allen Avenue Elementary School. School Secretary Sandy Mc Farland says, “Whoever is brave enough to get into the eagle costume is Allen.” Teri Simonsen is one such mother. She disguised herself as the eagle for the first grade “Teddy Bear” picnic. Her daughter was among the first graders present, but she was unaware that her mother was inside the costume. Simonsen says, “Most of the children wanted to shake my hand, but there were one or two who just wanted to kick me.” Many of the children were curious and tried to figure out who Allen really was, but when they asked questions, Simonsen remained quiet and entertained the children. “It’s not something I would want to do everyday, but it’s fun, and the children really enjoy it,” she says.
Bonita High School Bearcats Ashley Evans and Marci Vinci wear the green and white bearcat costumes at games and pep rallies. They use their energy to stir up the crowd’s spirit; “It gives me a chance to express myself; it’s definitely fun,” says Evans.
The two were friends before becoming mascots, and Evans says their friendship has only grown stronger since they began working together. As Vinci does push-ups for every point scored, Evans counts them down to the crowd. Both girls have been invited to audition as U.S.A. mascot instructors for cheer camp. Their identity is no secret, and most people are very supportive of them.
From elementary school owls to high school bearcats, mascots entertain and promote school spirit, and most everyone loves the lions, tigers and bearcats … oh my!