Under the mask: A behind the scenes look at what it's like to be Wilbur and Wilma
As soon as the fireworks go off, Joe Previte knows his job. He grabs the UA flag and sprints as quickly as possible toward the opposing end zone, hanging on for dear life to not be knocked down by the wind.
He hands the flag immediately off to a handler, then casually strolls along the sidelines of Arizona Stadium, waving and pumping up the fans. He might throw in a casual dab here or there and lick his tail. He makes his way over to Sarah Holmes, who is smiling in the distance.
Except nobody sees it that way. Instead, they see the dynamic duo of Wilbur and Wilma, the school mascots who have become a staple in the Tucson community.
Previte and Holmes have kept the biggest secret the UA has to offer: the identities of Wilbur and Wilma.
“It’s kind of like Hannah Montana, ‘you get the best of both worlds,’” Holmes said. “You get to see so many behind the scenes of things and athletics. Being on the field at the same time, no one knows who you are. That can be tough some times because it’s hard to feel appreciated with all that you do when you are anonymous like that.”
Holmes has spent the past two years as the 28th Wilma in UA history and captain of the mascot program. Previte, on the other hand, is relatively new to the game, jumping at the chance to step into the shoes of the 55th Wilbur for his senior year.
Neither one ever thought they would be representing the school in such a way.
By the time their reigns end, the duo will have visited a combined 11 states, performed in more than 250 public appearances, given “too many to count” hugs, taken roughly 10,000 selfies and done one too many one-handed pushups. They have loved it every step of the way.
“There are no words to describe it. Everybody knows you,” Previte said. “For me, I love meeting people, so this allows me to fulfill the outlet. The president of the university gives you a big hug. Lute Olson shakes your hand. Getting high fives from Sean Miller and Rich Rodriguez has been amazing. Being able to be this quirky, energetic figure and represent the UA in a positive way.”
As tradition goes, Previte and Holmes revealed themselves at the final Arizona men’s home basketball game this season on March 5.
“I almost don’t want the magic to disappear for the people who still have the magic,” Previte said. “At the same time, now people are going to know. It was neat being recognized for that because this whole time you have been living the life of a lie a little bit. It was really rewarding to be recognized because I know other mascots don’t have that sort of reveal.”
Being Wilbur and Wilma presents many challenges most students would never think of.
Weeks consist of three workouts, meetings with coaches and advisors, appearances in the community and managing time in the classroom. That doesn’t count performing at almost every single UA sporting event.
“If I can make somebody smile, even if I get extra tired or have to give extra time, I realized I can do it,” Previte said. “It takes tolerance and just realizing that you are doing something that is bigger than yourself. You have to put others before you with this.”
Being the mascot that everybody knows does have its perks, of course.
“Favorite memory by far, and coolest thing I’ve ever done in my life, was the request for the Country Music Awards,” Previte said. “Working in that large of an event; I had never done anything like that before. When the live performance was happening and it’s on national television, the curtains came up when Brad Paisley was playing ‘Country Nation,’ you’re just going ham. That’s by far my favorite memory.”
For Holmes, who grew up in Tempe, beating ASU to win the Pac-12 South topped the list. Rushing the field after defeating No. 10 Utah came in a close second. Other than in-game events, many appearances gave the duo a chance to make a difference in the lives of kids who are struggling through illness.
“Last year, we got to hand [a patient] her admissions letter,” Holmes said. “After we did that, we walked into the other rooms and surprised the other kids. I almost started crying while in suit because that’s just the greatest feeling in the world. Just the simple surprise of seeing them made their day, which made my day.”
Aside from being the Wildcat couple that has been married for 29 years, Previte and Holmes have become extremely close friends in the process.
Holmes was most recently accepted into Mortar Board, the senior honorary, which Previte has been the president of this past year.
“She’s made sure that I’m on top of everything,” Previte said. “Any time I’ve been worried, she’s able to help me out or provide advice. She’s kind of been a mom figure for me. ... She also got into Mortar Board and now I’m her Mortar mentor, so it’s all full circle.”
The duo comes together to scream out a motto before games: “If the fur ain’t flying, you ain’t trying! Bear Down!”
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