"The Judge" was unveiled Jan. 8 as the new mascot for Houlton Middle-High School. It replaces "the Penguin" as the school's character for basketball games. With the mascot is Houlton cheerleader Morgan Harris. Credit: Joseph Cyr | Houlton Pioneer Times

HOULTON, Maine — The penguin is gone, and Houlton Middle-High School has a new mascot to fire up the crowds at sporting events.

The school unveiled “The Judge” mascot at a student assembly Jan. 8, and the character made its first appearance at Houlton’s girls basketball game against Central Aroostook later that night.

With a team name of “Shiretowners,” coming up with a mascot to cheer at sporting events has proven challenging. Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines a “Shire Town” as “a town where a court of superior jurisdiction — such as a circuit court or a court with a jury — sits.”

“A committee started working on the possibility of a new mascot last year as the penguin costume had reached the end of its healthy life,” RSU 29 Superintendent Ellen Halliday said. “Plus, many comments over the years had been made regarding the penguin as a mascot. People did not know we had a penguin for the most part, and then they could not understand why we were penguins as we are called the Shiretowners.”

The penguin mascot was featured throughout the mid-1980s but in recent years has not been spotted at basketball games. It was resurrected for the Shires’ tournament run last year, but the costume showed pretty severe signs of aging.

Credit: Joseph Cyr | Houton Pioneer Times

That mascot was selected because of the black and white color schemes associated with penguins. Those colors also matched Houlton’s school colors.

Houlton cheering coach Renae Foley said the mascot will be a part of her squad since the Maine Principals Association requires all mascots to be associated with school-sanctioned cheering teams, particularly for use at the Maine Basketball Tournament in February.

“A shire was known as the county seat where there was the county court/judge,” Halliday said. “Feedback was asked for and received and the new mascot was approved by me. The costume was made by a Canadian company who specifically makes mascots. We are excited to have a new, vibrant mascot uniform that is more user-friendly.”

After much discussion the committee recommended the judge as a new character to be the school’s mascot. Some students at the middle-high school were included in the selection process, as were younger elementary students.

A second mascot — a horse — was also considered because a Shire is a breed of horse, Halliday said.

“We went with the judge as that is more closely related to why we are the Shiretowners,” she said.

The name for the mascot has yet to be determined, Halliday said.

The school keeps the identity of the person in the mascot costume a secret to allow the student to have plenty of freedom to bring the character to life in his or her own way.