In the annual Capital One Mascot Challenge, the UA’s own Wilbur T. Wildcat was selected to the 2013 All-America Challenge team and will compete for mascot of the year.
This year’s team includes 16 mascots representing universities from across the nation.
This marks Arizona’s third year participating in the contest and Wilbur’s second appearance in the event. Wilbur competed once before in 2011, when he made it to the final four.
His wife Wilma was selected to last year’s competition, but failed to collect enough votes to qualify for the playoffs.
Weekly head-to-head matchups throughout the season pit two mascots against each other for points. The victor is determined by the amount of support from students and fans through social media streams like Facebook and Twitter.
This year’s event will see the implementation of a new voting system that provides fans three ways to vote and earn points for their school’s respective representative.
Supporters can vote traditionally on the capitalonebowl.com website, complete a weekly 25-point challenge by using the hashtag #CapitalOneWilbur on Facebook and Twitter, or complete a weekly 100-point challenge by posting a picture or video to show school pride.
Coincidentally, the man inside Wilbur’s suit is an animal science junior.
“We are trying to promote ourselves in any way possible,” Wilbur said. “In order to rack up more votes, we are planning on getting shirts made and using social media networks to promote the hashtag #CapitolOneWilbur.”
While being mascot is a unique and exciting job at times, their role in competitive Division I programs is difficult.
No one is supposed to know the identities of the students inside the costumes until their unmasking at the halftime show during the last basketball game, and more often than not, the students underneath the suit aren’t immediately recognized.
Wilbur and Wilma have a large influence, not only on spectators in the stands, but on the Tucson public as well, said Roberta Quiroz, cheerleading and mascots advisor.
“It’s amazing just how many people get excited when they see them,” Quiroz said. “[Wilbur and Wilma] are the ambassadors not only for the university, but for the whole Tucson community.”
“They get hundreds of requests every year to go not only to university events, but also different fundraisers and benefits around town for the community. They really are a representation not only of our athletics department, but also of our school.”
Behind Wilma’s mask is an English and creative writing double major who said that community service, such as participating in fundraisers and working with children, is more rewarding than working to revamp tired crowds at football and basketball games.
“Being a part of the program here is rewarding in more ways than just athletic games,” Wilma said. “We get to be active in the community and [positively] impact other people. That’s what is most important to me.”
Wilbur said that there’s another level of responsibility when representing the UA.
“Being a mascot to me is more than just being in the suit during games,” Wilbur said. “I represent the university and serve as a face, logo and icon for Arizona Athletics, while also contributing and giving back to the community in various other ways.
“Whatever I do in-suit will display how I feel about my school. I have to be careful and aware of everything I do in the costume, because there are a lot of kids who really look up to me.”
-Follow Evan Rosenfeld @EvanRosenfeld17