From the Huntsville Item:
Happy Birthday, Sammy
The Lowman Student Center Atrium at Sam Houston State University was bustling with excitement on Friday for the Sammy Reception.
Poster-size photos of Sammy the Bearkat lined the atrium, guiding viewers through a historic walk of the famous SHSU mascot, celebrating 50 years this year. In the photographs, those attending could see and celebrate how Sammy has changed throughout the years.
Students stopped by in between classes alumni smiled as they looked at the familiar photos. The real treat of the reception was the presence of current and former individuals who have played the role of Sammy.
“It was one of the best experiences of my life,” James Pharaon said.
Pharaon embodied Sammy from 1995 through 1998. Beginning as a cheerleader at SHSU, he found his way into a try-out for Sammy, completely transforming his college experience as he won the position.
“I was the one in the dog suit for a year and a half,” he said. “During a football game, it started raining and the suit practically disintegrated while I was wearing it as it was made of a paper mache material. It was then we knew it was time for a change.”
From this experience, Pharaon went on to create the look Bearkats know today.
“The process began in 1996. We went through hundreds of ideas and took it to the head of the school,” he said. “I personally wanted Sammy to have an aggressive look, but we ended with a friendly version. It took several months and then we unveiled the new design on Jan. 30, 1997.”
Pharaon went on to become a graphic designer and production coordinator for Germania Insurance in Brenham.
Mark Barry and Pharaon worked together as graphic designers in student activities, encouraging each other to become more creative and at times, mischievous. Barry stepped into the Sammy suit in 1998 and stayed in the position until 1999.
“It was a blast. It was like I had a VIP pass to get away with anything,” Barry said.
“I’ll never forget the time I went to the National Mascot Championship at Disney Land. I ended up in fifth or sixth place, but the judges told me I could have had first if my performance had just been a little more family-friendly,” Barry remembered.
Coming from California to attend the reception, Patrick Gardenier played the part of Sammy from September of 2000 until April of 2006.
“It was a life-changing experience,” Gardenier said. “I came for school, but stuck around to be involved on campus. When I tried out to be Sammy, my mom didn’t think I could do it without my grades suffering.
“However, becoming involved with the student activities and going to hundreds of events each year, really helped me learn how to prioritize and multi-task. My grades got much better and I made the dean’s list seven or eight times.”
Trent Coots also played the role of Sammy and became good friends with Gardenier. After viewing an ad in the school paper, he tried out to be Sammy. Coots advised current and future mascots to keep up the tradition.
“There’s great history behind the character of Sammy and the school, yet there’s always new ways to present it,” he said. “Be creative and have lots of fun.”
Coots and Gardenier spoke with enthusiasm of their road trips to competitions, seeing snow for the first time and learning to embody a school spirit.
“Most people don’t realize that to be a good mascot, it takes two to three years to connect with the character,” Coots said.
For those attending the reception, it was clear, these men are more than simply mascots, they are good friends who will never forget their experience at SHSU.
“My time at SHSU as Sammy shaped my life,” Coots said. “From there I went on to become the mascot for the Houston Comets. I learned so much from the experience.”
Gardenier works with a minor league baseball team in California and described his time at SHSU as very influential in the course of his career.
“I’ll always be using the skills I learned while I was Sammy,” Gardenier said.
“When I was Sammy, I learned how view events with a creative mindset,” Pharaon said. “Now, in whatever I’m doing, I try to present it in a new way. The experience opened up so many doors for me. I’ll never forget introducing the new suit or proposing to my wife during a halftime performance. “
All of the former Sammy mascots wish the very best to SHSU and desire to encourage others to get involved with the university or community as it is never known what doors may be opened as the result or what skills may be gained by simply putting forth an effort.
Photo caption: Former Bearkat mascots, from left, Patrick Gardenier, Mark Barry, James Pharaon and Brent Coots pose with Sammy the Bearkat during Friday’s Sammy Reception. Sammy celebrates his 50th birthday this year.