Mom of new Wildcat mascot gives tips from her own LHHS mascot days

Julie James as Otis the Mascot in 1982

When cheerleader tryouts were over in March and the new mascots were announced for Lake Highlands High School, one family felt a little déjà vu. Rising senior Maribeth Punjak is one of LHHS’ newest Wildcat mascots, a role her mother, Julie Punjak James, played in 1982-83.

“My cat name will be Sammy,” says Maribeth, who will share duties with lead mascot Emily Boyd. The freshman mascot will be Chloe Willis. “I’m really looking forward to having a good time, entertaining the crowd and having fun with little kids.”

It took some convincing, but now she’s happy to have tips from her mom.

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“When Maribeth was younger she didn’t believe that I was the mascot. I had to show her pics to prove it,” says Julie. “You have to use your instinct if a child is scared [of the big cat suit], but mostly children were coming up and wanting to hug me or pull my tail. I would walk in the stands and be mobbed by the kids.”

The girls will attend camp, where they will receive training with other mascots by mascot pros.

In 35 years, says Julie, much has improved.

“Otis was my Wildcat costume’s name, and Otis had wiry fur. I had to brush it to keep it de-tangled. The head was huge, and it had a strap that would go under my chin to help keep it on.”

Some things, though, remain the same.

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“In colder months, the suit was nice and cozy, but in August and September, that suit was so hot. I used to say it was a great weight loss program. I could sweat off 10 pounds during a football game.”

According to the LHHS yearbook, “The Wildcat mascot was a new addition to the school this past 1980-81 school year. After a questionnaire was sent out to the student body asking their opinion on a mascot suit, the favorable response was all that was needed. The mascot made its first appearance to the student body on January 30, 1981 at the Greenville [High] basketball pep rally. The first person to wear the suit was senior Monica Bush.”

“Tommy Spillman was mascot the year before me,” adds Julie. “I was the third.”

Since the first class graduated from LHHS in 1964, that’s a long time to go sans-mascot.

“I have no idea why they waited so long,” says Julie. “I never heard anything about that.”

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In Julie’s day, mascots were selected by student vote after candidates performed a routine of their creation in front of the student body in the gym – a process Julie calls nerve-wracking. Maribeth, Emily and Chloe were selected by judges. Julie performed at football and basketball games and pep rallies, as will today’s mascots, but they will also appear at the LH Junior Women’s League Run the Highlands, Exchange Club’s Oktoberfest and multiple other community events.

“Our cheerleaders were great about incorporating the mascot into routines and pep rally skits. It was still pretty new to have a mascot back then,” says Julie. “The best thing about being a mascot is representing the great community of Lake Highlands and making people of all ages smile and laugh.”

You can see the new mascots and cheerleaders perform at the upcoming Red White Game on May 20th. Pre-game festivities start at 1:30 and kickoff is at 2 at Wildcat-Ram Stadium.


Otis the Mascot with Julie Higgins
Julie James Punjak cheers at a Wildcat pep rally
1981 yearbook


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  • Emily Boyd

    Can you please delete this? It is unnecessary.

  • Ellen Cassell Bryant

    Love this story and love the LH legacy being passed from mother to daughter! Very excited we have three high school mascots this coming year to cheer on the Wildcats!

  • Lucinda C

    Way to go Maribeth! Love legacy LH stories like this one!

  • Carol Toler

    Thank you, “Lake highlands student.” Your wording is eerily similar to that of an email exchange I have had this week with the “lead mascot,” Emily Boyd. As I told Ms. Boyd, my story was not about the LHHS mascot program, it was about two specific people and a unique situation at LHHS – one of the 3 new mascots chosen has a family member (mom) who was one of the school’s original mascots (1982). How cool!
    It’s my understanding that you have also contacted other media outlets, including a local TV station, to complain, as you did with me, that “Maribeth is not the mascot.” That is unfortunate. I spoke with officials at the school, and they assured me that both she and the freshman mascot, Chloe Willis, ARE valued members of the team. Here is a quote from sponsor Aly Linenberger: “None of the girls are ‘more of a mascot’ than any other.”
    As the mother of a former LHFC mascot and another cheerleader daughter (and a Bell Boy), I am have a great love for the mascot and cheer programs. I urge you to embrace the other mascots and work in a collaborative way, moving forward. That is the LH way, and we have a long tradition of doing just that.

  • The article is pretty clear that Maribeth isn’t the only mascot, Lake Highlands student. Here’s the exact wording from the article: “My cat name will be Sammy,” says Maribeth, who will share duties with new varsity mascot Emily Boyd. The freshman mascot will be Chloe Willis.”

  • Lake highlands student

    In this article it is said that Maribeth is the new mascot and that is false. She is the back up mascot. She won’t be holding the same responsibilies as the lead mascot, Emily Boyd. I feel as if this is denying Emily the recognition she deserves from going from cheerleader to mascot.