Shane Lyons said it’s hard to imagine West Virginia University without the mountaineer.
“The Mountaineer mascot is very unique in college athletics,” said WVU athletic director Lyons. “He’s not a cartoon character or someone hiding behind a mask. Our Mountaineer is someone all of our fans get to know and talk to.
The Mountaineer is one of the busiest mascots, not only attending home and away football and basketball games, but various other appearances across the state, Lyons said. .
“And when a new Mountaineer puts on the buckskin, our fans love to get to know and cheer with the new one and that becomes a tradition over the years,” he said.
It’s a tradition that began in 1927 with Clay Crouse and is still going strong today with 66 different college students having served.
Rock Wilson made mascot history as a mountaineer from 1991 to 1993. He was the second to serve for three consecutive years and he succeeded the first-ever female mountaineer, Natalie Tennant, who became secretary of the mountain. of West Virginia.
Wilson first had his eye on the job as a teenager in Ritchie County.
“In 1981, Ed Cokely was the mountaineer and I worked for his dad, putting hay on the Cokely farm,” Wilson said. “I thought it was super cool that Ed was the mountaineer, so when I went to college I gave it a try.”
He followed in Cokely’s footsteps by being the second Ritchie County High School graduate to wear the buckskin. He loved everything about the gig – from the gun shooting and driving the football team on Mountaineer Field to the fans “high five” before the game.
“I will never forget the first game I played. It was a night game and I said I was going to the parking lot early in the morning and meeting the fans all day,” he said. “Everyone wanted me to eat with them. When I took the field that night, I was full of hot dogs and kielbasa – and I had 8,300 pounds of men running behind me. It was quite hard.
Wilson had remembered that Cokely had a little mountaineer to accompany him to sporting events, and he decided to revive that tradition.
“My nephew, Brock, was about 4 at the time and I bought him a little set of buckskins to match mine and took him to games,” Wilson said.
Toting the miniature Mountaineer produced a lot of “oohhs and aahhs”. It also helped Wilson connect with younger fans. After all, a big, burly guy with a beard and a gun could be pretty scary, he said.
People often approached little Brock, asking if he would ever become the official mountaineer. He too began to harbor the dream of wearing the buckskin and raccoon skin cap. Several years later, he tried to make this dream a reality. Like his uncle before him, he didn’t win the title the first time around. In fact, it was his third.
Coming to WVU from North Marion High School where she served as the Husky, Tennant had mascot experience under her belt, but as a very different mountaineer character.
“I was a funny mascot, covered in fur in an outfit my mom made me. I had a cape and a big ‘SD’ for Super Dog on my chest,” she said. “I was a very interactive mascot. I did not sit on the sidelines. I shot the half court and dribbled between my legs.
Tennant found his humor and antics ultimately useful while wearing the buckskin.
Because she was also very involved in student activities, she did not audition for Mountaineer until she was a senior at WVU. She submitted an application and went through the interview process, eventually ending up as one of two applicants for that year’s encouragement. It was then that she realized that if she came out on top, she had her work cut out for her.
Members of the Climbers’ Selection Committee — which includes university students, faculty and staff — do not take their duties lightly. They review the applicants’ applications and select approximately 10 to interview. From there, the contestants are narrowed down to four finalists who dress up and participate in a tryout held at a WVU basketball game. Their interaction with the crowd and their presentation are scored and added to their application and interview scores.
So when Brock Burwell was not selected, he asked the committee where he could improve, and then he worked to make it happen. In 2009 he was named backup mountaineer for Rebecca Durst – the second woman to serve – and in 2010 he became the official mascot, beginning his reign at the annual Blue and Gold football game held in April.
“The first year I made about 300 appearances and over 500 for the two years,” Burwell said.
His tenure was during the last few years WVU was in the Big East Conference. In addition to games at the University of Cincinnati, University of South Florida, Rutgers University and the University of Pittsburgh – among several others – Burwell has appeared at elementary schools, fairs, festivals and parades. As is tradition, his tuition was waived during the years he served as a mascot.
“In this role of ambassador of the university that I loved, I was able to reach a large number of people,” he said. “It was an opportunity to travel to schools across the state and area, talk about something I love. You can’t go wrong with a position like that.
His successor was Jonathan Kimble, who sought the position because of his passion for mountaineering athletics and for the state and its people.
“It was a great opportunity to serve everyone – the state and the students and to make West Virginia a better place, especially as we entered the Big 12 conference – to really be a face and to give West Virginia a good name,” he said. .
While a mountaineer from 2012 to 2013, Kimble traveled to all 55 counties in West Virginia, making nearly 750 appearances. A few stand out. The Baylor match was included – the first-ever “Stripe the Stadium” event.
“It was really fun and I’ll never forget that game,” he said. “We beat Baylor 70-63 and I had to do 385 push-ups for that game.”
It is traditional for the mountaineer to drop and do push-ups after every touchdown and kick or two-point conversion – one push-up for every point on the scoreboard.
Kimble said he was in pretty good shape.
Like many of his predecessors, including Wilson and Burwell, Kimble’s look was completed with a beard. But unlike most climbers before him, Kimble was already sporting facial hair before seeking the job.
Not a day goes by that Kimble doesn’t think about his days as a WVU Mountaineer.
“I think it’s made me a better person, grateful for where I come from,” he said. “And that continues to inspire me to work harder at everything I do.”
Over the years, the rifle is passed down from mascot to mascot, but each climber is given a custom-made buckskin outfit and coonskin cap. Each is unique in some ways, but they share special qualities and bond.
“The Mountaineer is not just an extension of our sports teams, but also an extension of the entire university,” Lyons said. “The Mountaineer is a student who has time requirements to juggle much like a Division 1 student-athlete and in many ways the Mountaineer must be a quality athlete in order to perform the duties of the position.”
The Mountaineer is a respected symbol of pride and unity for the university and, in many ways, one of its best ambassadors. That says a lot about the importance of the position, he added.
“Mountaineers are hard-working, loyal and take great pride in their duties and in their accomplishments,” Lyons said. “The Mountaineer is not only a great representative of our university, but also of our great state and its people who have come to depend on the mascot to bring joy to the hearts of toddlers and pride. to WVU fans everywhere.”
But it’s not always fun and games.
Being the first female mountaineer was a challenge that came with a lot of negativity for Tennant. Letters were written to the campus newspaper protesting the idea of a woman wearing buckskin. There were jeers from the crowd. Some even threw objects at him.
“There were signs that said, ‘We don’t want a Mountain Dear, give us back our Mountaineer,'” Tennant said.
Not only did she persevere, but she used that humor she learned serving as a high school mascot. A memorable incident occurred at Virginia Tech when a call came from the crowd: “We want a man.
“I looked at the guy – who was from Virginia Tech – and I said, ‘Me too,'” Tennant said. “He had nothing to say.”
As Tennant’s one-year tenure as a Mountaineer continued, the negativity began to fade and she received encouragement and support. Overall, the proud moments certainly outweighed the bad ones, and if she had to do it all over again, she would.
“It really shaped who I am,” she said. “When I first ran for Secretary of State in 2004, people asked me if I was tough enough for politics. I said if I could handle what I ‘ve done at 22, I can definitely do it.
After 2014-15 mountaineer Michael Garcia, Troy Clemons was selected earlier this year and will serve in the 2016-17 school year. not