Editor's Note: This column was first published in the June 30, 2015 edition of the Register-Pajaronian.
There are some things in life that are commonly accepted.
The sky is blue, grass is green — when not in a drought — and, if you’re a Watsonville High grad, like myself, the name of your mascot is spelled with a “z.”
Before last week, I was never curious as to why Watsonville used a z instead of an s at the end of its mascots' name. Like I said, I accepted it. It’s not a spelling mistake, which was my first thought when I went to my first high school basketball game, it’s the unspoken rule — like not putting ketchup on a hotdog. No Watsonville alumnus asks why, they just accept it.
“I don’t think I’ve ever asked,” said Watsonville Athletic Director Saul Ruiz, “and I don’t think anyone ever does. It’s just accepted.”
And it’s been accepted for a long, long time. Ruiz, a 1999 grad, was a fan of the Wildcatz football team since his youth, and said he would clip out photos and articles from newspapers in the area. He grew up seeing it spelled with a z in the annual football programs, and grew up with the abbreviation of ‘Catz as a source of pride. He grew up wanting to wear the z across his chest and hoping to play for the Wildcatz.
“It was ingrained in me,” Ruiz said.
The same could be said about one of Watsonville’s few professional football players Sherman Cocroft. The 1978 grad was similar to Ruiz. He grew up wanting to play for the Wildcatz. He also grew up seeing the z. He said he never saw it spelled with an s, and he hopes he never will.
“I thought it was clever,” said Cocroft, who played five years in the NFL. “I love the z because I love anything different.”
And it is different.
A thorough search on the web turned up no other high schools, colleges, or even club teams that spelled Wildcatz the way the Black and Gold does. A Google search of “Wildcatz mascot” will actually implore you that you’ve made a spelling mistake.
Ruiz and Watsonville coaches know the feeling. There have been plenty of occasions of misspelled gear from vendors.
“We make sure that they understand that it’s Wildcatz with a z,” Ruiz said.
He added mid-laugh: “And, sometimes, they still call us to make sure we didn’t make a mistake.”
So where did it come from?
From the students.
Well, Watsonville students from 1946.
The z, according to 1953 grad and former Watsonville High teacher Mas Hashimoto, was first substituted for the s at the same time as the famous sketch of Willie the Wildcat was created.
Why did they do it? Simple: “We wanted to be different,” said Hashimoto, speaking for what felt like all students that have walked through the halls of Watsonville High. “To be unique. To be one of a kind.”
The Associated Student Body from that class put pen to paper and made it official by throwing it into their constitution. But, according to 79-year-old Hashimoto, it wasn’t until the ‘60s that it was recognized. Newspapers continued to spell it “incorrectly,” students continued getting upset and the z had not yet reached its peak.
As Hashimoto remembers it, it took a phone call to the editors of the Register-Pajaronian newspaper to come to the agreement: the z was right.
“[The newspaper] prided themselves in the correct spelling of names,” Hashimoto said. “Well, this was the correct way to spell it.”
And now it’s law. Heck, there’s even a street named Wildcatz Way. But maybe a few years down the road, another group of students will put their own touch on the Wildcatz. The return of the s?
“Are you kidding me?!” Hashimoto asked almost willing to lay his life on the line to protect the z.
Ok, you’ll get no arguments from me. The z is here to stay.