The start of school is typically about making a good first impression, but Martial F. Billeaud Elementary fourth-grader Anna Luneau was given the chance to start a legacy when she won the school’s mascot competition in September. 

Anna’s bulldog “Suga” was among dozens of entries submitted by students and their families to be the school’s mascot. Anna and her grandfather worked on the submission together, creating a computer-generated image of a bulldog in front of sugar cane, she said.

In the explanation section, Anna wrote the design was inspired by the school’s namesake, sugar cane manufacturer Martial F. Billeaud, and the sugar cane fields surrounding the school. The bulldog came from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, whose mascot was formerly the bulldog.

While Billeaud Elementary is new to all students, it’s especially new for Anna, who moved to Lafayette from Bunkie with her family just before school started. The 9-year-old said it’s exciting to know that her entry will represent the school long after she’s left campus.

“It makes me proud to make the mascot,” she said.

The mascot selection was officially unveiled at the Lafayette Parish School Board’s Sept. 11 meeting, where Principal Christy Hayes and Anna showed off the design. The unveiling was almost as big a surprise to Anna as the audience; her selection was kept a secret and her parents told her just before the meeting, she and Hayes said.

“I was very shocked,” Anna said.

The fourth-grader said she’s making friends at Billeaud Elementary and her new classmates have told her “that it’s cool that I got it and that they’re happy for me,” she said.

Her peers had funny, colorful, sincere and creative ideas for the mascot; students suggested tigers, mermaids, owls, bunnies, narwhals, purple unicorns and even jelly beans. While all the submissions were great, selecting Anna’s was a no-brainer because of its connection to the community’s history and the school’s namesake, Hayes said.

“I think that’s what community is… bringing things together and keeping traditions and making people feel welcome. It’s a comforting feeling, I think, when everything’s so new here. Those things bring you back to the past and link you to what it’s all about: family, community and roots,” Hayes said.

Martial Francois Billeaud, Sr. was born in France in 1836 and immigrated to Louisiana in 1840, eventually settling in what is now the Broussard area. Around 1872, Billeaud began his sugar cane business and established the crop as a major industry in the area.

The mascot’s connection to UL was also fitting, because the school is already a big supporter of the university, Hayes said. On Fridays, the students can wear red shirts or UL jerseys to show their support. It’s important the students are looking ahead and know what the community has to offer, she said.

Hayes graduated from the university when the mascot was still the bulldog. Her neighbor gifted her a handmade ceramic bulldog in celebration, and the gift moved with her from home to home over the years. When the bulldog was selected for Billeaud Elementary, Hayes went searching and found the ceramic mascot in a closet.

The full circle moment “brought chills,” she said. Now the ceramic bulldog has a place of pride in the principal’s new office.

The students and faculty have been brainstorming ways to incorporate the mascot into the school’s fabric more and more each day. Hayes said she plans to purchase a bulldog costume in the future for a student to wear at school events, and the bulldog will be featured in a mural alongside the school’s faculty and the “Leader in Me” seven habits. 

Already, teachers are issuing “bark bucks” passes with a bulldog printed on them that students can use to purchase fun privileges, like wearing crazy socks to school, when they’ve exhibited good behavior, they said.

Hayes said a student even proposed having a boy bulldog named “Cane,” so “Suga” can have a brother.

Assistant Principal Courtney Breaux said involving the students in building the campus’s identity and culture was a top priority for the faculty. It’s important they take pride in the campus and feel ownership of the school.

The mascot competition was one way of getting the students involved, she said.

“Culture was a big thing for all of us on the team…our goal was to create a positive, inviting, family-type culture here, so student input, children’s views, their feelings were important to us,” Breaux said. “Before we even had keys to the doors, it was discussed that the kids were going to have input into who we were.”

“It’s their school,” she said.

Email Katie Gagliano at kgagliano@theadvocate.com