MASSILLON, Ohio (AP) – A Massillon high school football team that has had a live tiger cub at games for decades started the season with its traditional mascot on hand, even though the district hasn’t proved to the state that the mascot’s display would meet stricter rules for possessing exotic animals.
Boosters for Massillon’s Washington High School displayed a cub at Thursday’s game against Perry, wheeling the white and orange cage across the end zone before kickoff, The (Massillon) Independent reported. Club president Matt Keller wouldn’t say where the animal came from, who paid for its appearance or whether it was a donation, and he told the newspaper it would be premature to assume the tiger will be at future games.
“It’s one tradition we were able to continue, even if just for one game,” Keller said.
Boosters typically lease a cub called Obie each year as the mascot, and a limited exemption for the school was included when Ohio tightened regulations on ownership of exotic animals. That law was enacted after a suicidal man released dozens of bears, tigers and other creatures that authorities ended up killing out of fear for public safety.
The school was asked to attest that the Massillon cubs wouldn’t have contact with the public, would live at an accredited facility when they’ve outgrown their job as mascots and would be cared for throughout their lives. The Ohio Department of Agriculture, which oversees permits for dangerous wild animals, received the no-contact affidavit from Massillon schools Superintendent Richard Goodright before Thursday’s game but has not been given the other requested documentation, spokeswoman Erica Hawkins told The Associated Press on Friday.
Hawkins said the department will seek more information about where the tiger came from and is kept, and whether its use is covered under the state law and the Massillon exemption. She said the department wasn’t given official confirmation that there would be an Obie this year.
Obie’s appearance energized fans in attendance for the Tigers’ 41-37 victory.
“We’re really glad he’s here. He’s been around forever,” Kimberly Brown, a Massillon fan from Wayne County, told the newspaper. “For people that live and breathe football, he’s a huge deal.”
Massillon school board member Mary Strukel called it an “emotional thing.”
“It’s a shame we’re being made to pay for mistakes of others in the state,” she said.
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