Massillon High may have to start football season without mascot on sidelines

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MASSILLON, Ohio - With less than two days until their season opener against Perry, the Massillon Tigers could take the field on Thursday without a beloved tradition that has been a part of the football program for more than four decades.

Since 1970 the school has had a live tiger cub, named 'Obie', on its sidelines.

The tradition has survived attempts by animal rights' activists to get rid of the living mascot, but new state requirements for keeping exotic animals may keep the cub from being on the sidelines for the first time in 45 years.

Following the release of more than 50 exotic animals from a farm near Zanesville in 2011, the state has tightened its requirements for keeping and displaying exotics.

The laws allow Massillon to continue its tradition but the school district and the boosters are required to meet regulations for which the paperwork had not yet been submitted as of late Tuesday.

While the Massillon Tigers' Boosters have submitted paperwork showing they have the required liability insurance, a spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture says two additional affidavits have not yet been filed.

"They have to return the cub to an accredited facility and attempt to show in some way that the animal will be provided for for the rest of its life. They also need to guarantee just in an affidavit to the department that they are not going to allow the cub to come in contact with the public," said department spokesperson Erica Hawkins.

The Department of Agriculture is requiring an affidavit from an authorized official of Massillon High School attesting that during display and transport, Massillon High School confines the tiger in a cage that does not permit physical contact between the tiger and the public. The ODA also requires that the school agree to care for the tiger as long as the tiger lives and that the tiger will live in a facility that is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums or the Zoological Association of America.

Hawkins told Fox 8 News she has heard nothing one way or the other about whether to expect the paperwork from Massillon in time for Thursday's game and time is quickly running out.

On Tuesday Fox 8 did catch up with Matt Keller, the President of the Massillon Boosters who confirmed that the paperwork had not yet been submitted.

Keller did not grant an interview but he did say the boosters are "working on it."

He told Fox 8 News by telephone on May 19th that the most difficult challenge was assuring that the cub would be taken care of for the remainder of its life.

If the cub is not on the sidelines for Thursday's game, fans of the Massillon Tigers say it would be heartbreaking.

"It's a special mascot, one the kids from very little on up during games and at schools they get to see the mascot, it's something that grandparents walk their grandkids up to see," said Mark McGeorge, whose fan shop near Paul Brown Stadium prints and sells "Save Our Obie" t-shirts.

"There will be something missing. I mean I think the excitement will still be there but the traditions that went along with him it will feel like there is something missing," said Mary Sanders, a Tigers' fan.​


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