Firing up the crowd is the cat's meow

By Wilbur the Wildcat

Special to the Arizona Daily Wildcat

The greatest day of my life was Nov. 21, 1986, before the UA-ASU football game, when Wilma and I were married.

Wait a minute. I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me start from the beginning.

It was 80 years ago that the University of Arizona earned the nickname of "Wildcats."

The name was given to the UA after a football game against the Occidental Tigers on Nov. 7, 1914. William "Bill" Henry, a Los Angeles Times columnist, was inspired by the football team's great effort and wrote the words that started a UA tradition: "The Arizona men showed the fight of wildcats."

Since then, the Wildcat has undergone many changes leading to the mascot we have today, Wilbur the Wildcat. This school year marks the 35th anniversary of my first appearance at the UA.

The first mascot, donated by freshman Stanford Earl Brooks in 1915, was actually a real desert bobcat named "Rufus Arizona" after Rufus Bernhard von Kleinsmid, former UA president.

Unfortunately, Rufus' stint as mascot ended a few months later when he accidentally strangled himself while tied to a tree. Several real wildcats followed, but the tradition of live mascots died out in the mid-1950s.

The first human version of a mascot appeared in 1949, on the cover of the Kitty Kat campus humor magazine, when artist Bob White presented a male and female wildcat in cartoon form. White did not name either of his drawings.

My name, Wilbur, was not thought of until 1959, when two UA students, Richard Heller and John Pacquette, wondered why the UA did not have a mascot. They proposed that a UA student dress up as a wildcat, known as "Wilbur," and be sent to football games to promote spirit and arouse the fans.

The Associated Students of the University of Arizona donated $100 in 1959 and I was born. Heller and Pacquette formed a Wilbur club in which various people would dress up as Wilbur and lead cheers.

The club rules stated the identities of the students who played me were kept secret. The other rule was that students could not be taller than 5 feet 6 inches which thankfully is not enforced, or else I could not be Wilbur today.

I first took the field on Nov. 7, 1959

against Texas Tech, and I was clad head to toe in fur with an American flag on my left shoulder. I became an instant hit.

The UA traditions committee took control of my well-being in 1960. Later, ASUA took over, and then the athletic department in the spring of 1984.

The 1963 football team suggested that a live wildcat be brought back to walk the sidelines with me. Rufus II was donated by Douglas Chadwick, an agriculture student. The tradition of a live wildcat died out for the second time in 1971 when campus protests charged that the wildcat was used in an inhumane manner.

I received my first facelift in the 1970s when I became a "rhinestone cowboy." I lost my fur and got a papier-mache head, jeans, vest, holster with gun and cowboy boots.

In the 1980s, I reacquired my fur and was even joined by a female counterpart, Wilma the Wildcat. Wilma was created accidentally when costume designers, trying to create a new outfit for me, came up with the Wilma costume instead.

Wilma helps take some of the workload off me by appearing at the UA women's basketball and volleyball games, as well as the football games. Plus, she is the best wife a wildcat could want.

Last year, I went under the knife again, when a new costume was modeled after the university's new Wilbur design. I now look more menacing.

I have definitely undergone a lot of changes, but my presence at the university and in the Tucson community is as strong as ever.

Being Wilbur is a very demanding but rewarding job. I spend at least four hours a week on various activities on campus and in the surrounding community. I will probably spend 12 to 15 hours on Homecoming activities alone!

Wilbur is a volunteer job and I would never expect any monetary gain from the position in any way. I enjoy leading cheers and exciting the crowd. Working with children and making a difference is more rewarding than any amount of money I could ever be paid.

My main job as Wilbur is to get the crowd involved in all the UA athletic events. I also hope to be a motivator and a role model to students and children alike.

Being Wilbur is a great opportunity to represent this institution and all the great people, young and old, who have made it successful. It is also an opportunity to represent the current student body that has upheld the great tradition to this day.

Wilbur is included in the many great UA traditions that have endured over time, like John "Button" Salmon, J.F. "Pop" McKale, Spring Fling, ringing the bell after football games and especially Homecoming.

I am proud to be Wilbur and I know that through continued support from the university and Tucson community my tradition will continue to grow even stronger in the years to come.

Wait a minute I think I smell something.

Could it be roses?

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