By Sarah English/For The Independent
He has 7,873 Facebook friends, nearly as many Twitter followers, and 460 Instagram followers, but game-day crowds do not surround him as he walks anonymously around campus. While the football players and spirit squads are pictured in the game day programs and greeted by fans wherever they go, that is not the case for the athletes that portray Butch, the 2006 Capitol One Mascot of the Year.
Named after Cougar quarterback (1925-1927) Herbert “Butch” Meeker, who was described in the Chinook Yearbook as “the fightingest little football player ever to don a Cougar uniform,” Butch the mascot continues to lead the athletic fight with tremendous Cougar spirit.
From 1927 to 1978 a live cougar energized fans on game day. A succession of six cougars, presented to Washington State University by the presiding governor, lived just outside of the stadium in a cage where the Cougar Pride statue now stands. Since the passing of Butch VI a much larger and perhaps more loveable Butch, in the guise of a plush costume, has rallied athletes and fans. Athletic Director Bill Moos shared his thoughts with the student newspaper, The Daily Evergreen, that now “[Butch] is a little easier to pet and a lot more fun to hug.”
But despite all of the access to Butch, there are still some secrets the cat hides behind his whiskers. Even after many years of donning the suit for the last time, a former Butch is reticent about sharing too much, even his identity, to “respect the spirit of Butch.” Perhaps part of his speechlessness may be due to the fact that “the only training you get [to be Butch] is not to talk,” “B” shared.
And not talking means not telling anyone that you have the best job on campus—not girlfriends, roommates or teachers. Jenkins High School Music Director Joe Trudeau thought he and a friend were just like Jack Bauer on the TV show “24” when as students they interrogated Joe’s friend’s roommate, whose trips always coincided with athletic team away games, and he eventually confessed to being Butch. “We all finally understood how he had so many good-looking dance team and cheerleader friends,” Trudeau said. “B” didn’t cave quite so easily. “I actually got graded down by a teacher whose class I missed since I couldn’t tell her I had to be at a men’s basketball game that night,” he recalled.
Not talking also means not telling the full truth. From denying your claim to WSU fame to not disclosing your whereabouts to friends to having to come up with excuses for not being able to do something that coincides with a Butch appearance, it can be hard trying to remain open and honest. “You get pretty good at lying when you’re Butch,” “B” said.
Since “B”’s tenure as Butch, mascot athletes now receive more training than just instruction to keep their voices to a purr. They attend Universal Cheerleaders Association Mascot Camp to learn how to interact with fans of all ages, show emotions, and stay properly hydrated.
Any WSU student can aspire to be Butch, regardless of gender or size. “I’ve seen fat people play Butch. There’ve been tall Butches—one was six-feet, six-inches—and short Butches,“ “B” noted. But “being athletic helps.” Butch has been known to bust a move with the dance squad and sink a shot from half-court during basketball season.
Butch also has an intangible quality that others pick up on. “’I got the same feeling being around you as I did around Butch last weekend at the Cougar baseball game,’” “B” was told by someone in a computer lab near the end of his freshman year before he’d gotten the job.
But more than physical attributes or skills, “[being] Butch is more of a mindset,” “B” said, because nobody embodies Cougar spirit more than Butch. As the official ambassador to the vitality of Washington State University, his journey along the #RoadtotheRoses will be eagerly tracked by enthusiastic WSU fans, Facebook friends and Twitter followers, hoping for that Cougar connection.