-- Principal Mandy Vasek’s 600 elementary school students think she’s now engaged to their beloved school mascot, a panther, after last week’s surprise assembly.
Vasek’s boyfriend, Russ Johnson, arranged an entire fake assembly on Jan. 26 to pop the question to the love of his life -- while donning the panther costume -- at Castleman Creek Elementary School in Hewitt, Texas.
“I had so many parents calling and saying, ‘Our kids think you’re engaged to the panther,’” Vasek, 44, told ABC News of the magical moment.
Johnson, 45, had been planning the elaborate proposal since around Christmastime, at first hoping to propose on Twitter, the same way they first met, but ultimately going with a much larger, in-person plot.
“She pours her heart out to these 700 students and staff daily and I knew they’d want to be a part of that celebration,” he said.
“I walked into the gym and thought, ‘Why are the cameras set up?’ But I didn’t give it too much thought,” Vasek recalled of the special day. “The cheerleaders started cheering and their third cheer was to have the crowd chant, ‘Mandy will you marry me?’ I didn’t get it for a few seconds and was kind of embarrassed I didn’t know the cheer. But on the second chant, I heard, ‘Marry me,’ and everyone was like ‘It’s you.’”
Confused, Vasek started looking around the large crowd for Johnson, but he wasn’t anywhere to be seen.
“The panther mascot was walking toward me and then he pulled off the mask and there he was. I’m still in shock,” she said. “The kids were screaming and yelling and of course they’re little, from pre-K to fourth grade, so they didn’t really realize what was going on. But when he dropped down to one knee, everyone went crazy.”
Having her students be a part of that moment was “the sweetest thing to me,” Vasek said.
The lovebirds are already planning to wed on March 17, choosing a date so soon for sentimental reasons.
“She’s working on her doctorate,” Johnson explained. “Her dream is to walk across the stage as Dr. Johnson, with my name. She’s writing her dissertation and she wants to be able to dedicate the book to me. She graduates in May, so for her to walk and be published with my last name, we have to get married before she graduates.”
This is the second marriage for both Vasek and Johnson.