Believe it or not, your old pal Wellington once went by a completely different name—Tuffy. However, my name wasn’t changed because I was embarrassed by it or entered a witness protection program. Rather, my name changed following a vote of the students to change it.
I became Central’s official mascot in about 1926, after the school decided to scrap its previous sports team name, the Normalites, for something more fierce-sounding: the Wildcats. The Normalite name had originated because CWU’s original name was the Washington State Normal School.
In the early years, I often was depicted as a scary cat figure with pointy teeth and dark eyes. In the 1930s and 40s, I was given a freshman beanie embroidered with the school’s initials.
In 1951, a local business, the Wildcat Inn, acquired a living wildcat, a lynx, and named him Tuffy. He lived at the inn and was taken out in a cage to be displayed at Central home football games.
An advertisement that year in the school newspaper, The Campus Crier, for the Wildcat Inn’s grand opening (it had previously been known as the College Inn) noted, “Visit the home of Tuffy and if you don’t have a good time, you have the privilege of getting Tuffy!”
An ad the following year even boasted, “Tuffy offers a million-dollar cup of coffee for only a dime.”
In the summer of 1952, however, the Wildcat Inn experienced a fire that, according to the 1953 Hyakem, the school’s yearbook, burned it “nearly to the ground, leaving only a charred outer structure to reminds students of the hang-out it once was.”
In the aftermath, Tuffy was given to Central students, who continued to bring him to sporting events. It was said that when Tuffy was at a game, Central always won.
On the morning of October 17, 1952, just before Central’s first home football game, the padlock appeared to have been twisted off Tuffy’s cage and he escaped. Following a cat-hunt, which included a news bulletin read over the local radio station (KXLE), Mrs. Leonard Burrage III was alerted to Tuffy’s presence near her home at 309 East 10th Avenue by her barking dog. My feline counterpart was discovered curled up in her shrubs.
Tuffy was guided back into his cage and, according to news reports, “returned to the campus in time to make his appearance at the first Central home game of the season.”
Not surprisingly, the students soon realized that having a wildcat as a living mascot was probably not the best idea and that Tuffy was given to Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo, where he lived out the remainder of his days.
I finally became formally known as Wellington P. Wildcat in 1981, when the Wildcat Shop conducted a contest to provide me with a proper name. The winner of a $50 gift certificate was student Med Chadwick.
So, now you know the rest of the story.