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Behind the mask: What it’s really like being the University of Arizona’s mascots

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Ben Tisdale | The Daily Wildcat

Wilbur and Wilma sit in front of some members of the Bobcats Senior Honorary at the Homecoming bonfire and royalty crowning on Oct. 28. The celebration took place in front of Old Main. 

Have you ever wondered what the day-to-day life of a mascot involves? Or what they enjoy about the position? Are you curious about the downsides of the job? If so, you’re in luck. The Daily Wildcat asked Wilma and a former Wilbur these questions and more.

Wilma T. Wildcat and Wilbur T. Wildcat are the energetic mascots of the University of Arizona. Although the people behind the characters are required to keep their identity anonymous, they still had much to say about their lives and the realities of their unique role.

Mascots wake up early for morning practices and have their calendar scheduled with appearances and games several months in advance. The position takes lots of effort, organization and requires them to be proactive. 

“We do hours and hours of work every week,” Wilma said. “We do, as of right now, about three appearances a week, on top of other games that we have to do. So last week, I had to do basketball on Thursday, volleyball on Friday, football on Saturday [and] volleyball on Sunday, so it can get pretty crazy, but it's really worth it. I mean, everybody loves Wilbur and Wilma, and it's not even just the university, it’s all of Tucson and all of Arizona … so [we are] wanted kind of everywhere."

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This job involves connecting yourself to the character and the college, and many people who do this get a lot of enjoyment from it, according to Wilma and Wilbur.

“For me personally, it's just so much fun. I love having to put on another character and honestly just making people's day … and it's really fun hearing people's stories of their interactions with Wilbur and Wilma. So a lot of people don't know that I‘m Wilma, but people think, ‘Oh my gosh I just saw Wilma, like I got to hug her.’ It's the funniest thing having like a second life,” Wilma said.

“Game days and everything, that’s a lot of fun, and getting to interact with all the college students and having a blast, you know. People going crazy at like basketball, football. It's always a fun time,” Wilbur said.

Some of Wilbur's most memorable days involved getting tackled to the ground by 30 little kids and giving a big hug to an older man at a clinic who had known a previous Wilbur. The mascot can spread a lot of goodwill and happiness, he said.

Even though the job is rewarding, there are some downsides to being the mascot. One of these is the financial aspect.

“We don't get paid, so that is a downside, because we do put so much time into it. A lot of people do think we get paid — we don't,” Wilma said. “Literally the biggest volunteer position of your life, so I mean that's a downside, but I don't know, there's just so many pros that honestly outweigh the cons."

She also explained how the mascots do get some financial assistance, but it's not much and is never a set amount.

"We do get reimbursed if we have to like drive to Phoenix, and a lot of people think we get this huge, crazy scholarship — we don't," Wilma said. "It's purely based off of alumni donations, so we'll get kind of a scholarship, but it's mostly an endowment, and it's different every year purely based off of how much money was donated.”

Despite not getting paid, the mascots get other benefits. They get the merchandise, get to work out in McKale Center, eat at Bear Down Kitchen for free and generally receive similar perks to what athletes get, according to Wilbur.

There are also some negative interactions with sports fans. Whether it's getting cussed out, getting hit on the head of the costume, having things thrown at you or needing a protective circle of police and cheerleaders around you, many things can happen. You have to play it off and make up fun scenarios for it, Wilma said.

Sometimes they need rest and water, but fans want to take pictures or, in some cases, grab them.

“A lot of people forget we are human beings under the costume,” Wilma said.

Being the mascot also takes dedication. Trying to manage the two worlds of student and performer is a full-time job in itself.

“The schedule is really difficult to manage. It requires exceptional time management skills, so it can be hard to have a ‘normal’ social life outside of it, because it does take up a lot of time,” Wilma said. “When I’m not Wilma, I’m home doing homework. I still have time to go out and do things sometimes, but one thing that’s more difficult than anything else is having a social life.”

Mascots also have to travel to away games and activities, and as the face of school spirit at the UA, they bring the fun-loving mascot couple to a variety of events.

Wilma said that her favorite experience is traveling because it's a relatively new development. The mascot was never able to travel in previous years, but after COVID-19 that all changed.

“She is finally getting the recognition she deserves," Wilma said.

Since they are the face of the university, mascots go all over the world for appearances. They connect people from all walks of life.

Wilbur traveled to Hawaii with the basketball team, to Las Vegas with all the other Pac-12 mascots for the Pac-12 football championship game, to Kazakhstan to visit a micro campus and even to a wedding in Dallas, Texas.

“There's a lot of serious events we attend to, and I always enjoy that aspect too,” Wilbur said. “We can actually help.”

Wilbur and Wilma have been to the Diamond Children's Hospital and other philanthropic events around the state. While doing the All in for Autism Drive, Wilma got to connect with kids who had never seen them in person and made their day, she said.

The two mascots put a lot of time and energy into what they do, even though they aren’t getting monetarily reimbursed.

Interested in becoming a mascot?. According to Wilma, tryouts are roughly a week-long process with an application, an interview and a real-time audition. After the interview process, candidates are given the opportunity to show off their talent during a sporting event.

“It's the biggest volunteer position anyone would ever do in their life,” Wilma said.


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