There’s a whole new breed of cat on the prowl at Western Carolina University these days after the university unveiled a fresh look for Catamount athletics Wednesday, Aug. 13, just in time for the 75th anniversary of the selection of the Catamount as the official mascot for Western’s intercollegiate sports teams.
The “big reveal” of the 2008 version of the Caamount included a video showing highlights of 75 years of Catamount sports and a fashion show of apparel adorned with the new Catamount logo, which is part of a multiyear branding initiative to better define the university’s image and message.
“It is quite fitting that, on the 75th anniversary of our university’s sports teams becoming known as the Catamounts, we adopt a new mascot and logo for Western athletics more in keeping with the original thinking behind the selection of the name ‘Catamount,’” Chancellor John Bardo said. “We believe our new look better reflects the strength and agility of the native mountain cats of Western North Carolina.”
Western also is reverting to original shades of its school colors of purple and gold, with a deeper purple and traditional gold replacing bright hues of purple and yellow used in recent years.
The 2008 evolution of the Catamount logo was designed by Rickabaugh Graphics in Gahanna, Ohio, as part of an overall university branding project led by Stamats, one of the nation’s premier firms specializing in the field of higher education marketing.
“Eric Rickabaugh and Rickabaugh Graphics have done an outstanding job with the logo,” said Chip Smith, director of athletics. “We have been able to use elements and colors from the early years of the Catamount image and blend them into something new. It is aggressive enough to send a message and is a very distinctive look. That it is being introduced on the 75th anniversary of the Catamount name and the 25th anniversary of the 1983 football team that played for the national championship is a perfect opportunity to highlight our heritage and our future.”
The Catamount name is the result of an on-campus contest in 1932 to pick a new moniker to replace the previous team name of The Teachers. The contest came down to two finalists – the Mountain Boomers, after a small ground squirrel that scampers around the wooded Cullowhee campus and is difficult to catch, and the Catamounts, which was the preference of C.C. Poindexter, football coach and organizer of Western’s first department of athletics. The football team of the 1933 season was the first to be called Catamounts.
Webster’s Dictionary defines catamount as “any of various wildcats, such as a cougar or lynx.” Although the presence of wild cougars in the Southern Appalachian Mountains is a topic of debate, bobcats still roam the region. Catamount also is thought to be a local vernacular term shortened from “cat-a-mountain,” or any variety of the feline species residing in the area.
WCU is one of only two four-year universities in the nation that use the name Catamounts, and is the only football-playing institution to use the name. The teams of the University of Vermont in Burlington also are known as the Catamounts.
The Catamount logo has undergone numerous changes since 1933, with at least 14 different versions of the mark in existence since its inception. Since 1975, Western has employed five recognizable logos, including the new mark unveiled this year.
From 1975 through 1981, WCU used a slightly tilted, smiling cat logo, which is still prevalent on the “Old Mountain Jug.” In 1981, a new, front-view mark was introduced. That logo represented the Catamounts through the 1983 NCAA Division I-AA Football National Championship appearance; eight NCAA baseball regional appearances; and the 1996 Southern Conference men’s basketball championship and trip to Albuquerque, N.M., for the NCAA Tournament. Its 16-year run as the face of WCU athletics is the longest on record.
Shortly after Bardo became chancellor in 1995, he commissioned the design of a new Catamount insignia that “depicted the more aggressive stance WCU was taking in all its academic and athletic programs.” In June 1996, a sleek, side-looking Catamount mark was unveiled, with a variation incorporating the full body in a leaping motion.
In 2003, under the direction of then-athletics director Jeff Compher, the side-looking mark from 1996 was tweaked to again create a front-facing, “flying” logo that also included purple mountains in the background and the school name, “Western Carolina,” in the forefront.