There is a lot more that goes into being Willie the Warhawk that not many people understand. From the preparation, to the cool-down, it all takes time, effort, stamina, as well as energy and enthusiasm.
I started out mascoting my freshman year of high school. I really didn’t know what I was doing at first and I had no idea what I had really signed up for. My first costume was the New Berlin West Viking, Verne the Viking.
The costume was pretty basic. Pants, a shirt, gloves, shoes, and a head with a Viking hat to top it off. There really wasn’t a mascot program at my school because there was no full time mascot for a few years until I stepped into the position, so everything I did was lead by the head cheer coach.
With my first football game came awkwardness. I had no clue what I was doing, and when it comes to mascots, it is very easy to become boring and drab. The cheer coach hooked me up with one of her college contacts, who was at the time, the mascot for the Milwaukee Panthers.
He would come in to cheer practices with me once a week for a few months and taught me most of what I know today. At first we worked on etiquette such as taking pictures with guests, distress signs, how to deal with toddlers and infants, what to drink and what not to drink before suiting up, and much more.
After etiquette came conditioning and lots of it. When you are in a costume for sometimes 4-5 hours at a time, you need to be able to stay strong and energized enough to entertain the entire time.
From long distance runs to muscle buildup and core strength, I realized how out of shape I really was. As the practices went on, I slowly started showing improvement in my workouts as well as my time as the mascot.
After high school, I always wondered if I would continue the trade into my collegiate years. When I saw the opening for Willie at the end of my freshman year, I thought I would give it a shot. I spoke with Therese Kennedy and was hired on the spot.
My first game was a Whitewater home soccer game at the fields. I gave myself 20 minutes before the game to go and get dressed. I took a look at the costume and immediately realized I had no idea what I was doing. My high school mascot had very few parts to it and was really self explanatory. The Willie costume has ten individual pieces and once you have about half of it on, you can’t use your fingers because of the wings on the costume. A lot of the costume is held together with Velcro, which is much harder to control when your hands are constricted to fabric based wings.
With no instruction at all, and the help of looking at online “Willie the Warhawk” images, I was able to be only 10 minutes late for the game.
Since then, I have been Willie at many different sporting games, UC functions, Plan-it Purple events, and much more.
Being at a sporting event inside a mascot uniform is much different than going as a fan. The moment you are spotted by a fan; you are no longer “Eli”. You are “Willie the Warhawk, Mascot of University of Wisconsin – Whitewater” and you have to act like it. There is a lot of pressure put on you not only to represent the campus with dignity, but to keep spirits high and keep up the hype for Warhawk athletics.
Every mascot has its own personality. From Mickey Mouse’s bubbly and silly behavior to Willie the Warhawk’s sly and chill attitude, you have to over exaggerate every move that you make. Waving your hand at a fan or walking around campus, every step needs to be thought out and with purpose. Willie is a very chill character. When it comes to him, he is everyone’s friend and he enjoys his fame. He walks with a swift bounce in his step and pride in his stride!
Being a mascot for any event or team is very recompensing. I have probably worn around 10 different costumes by now and have enjoyed them all. But it’s the fans that make it all worthwhile. The fans are the reason you are out there and they are what drives the team to success. You almost get to step back and watch your peers in their endeavors of cheering on their home team and watch their school spirit take flight.
Many don’t realize all that goes into being a mascot, and I have just barely touched on the important parts here. It takes gumption and a lot of dedication to pump up the crowd and represent such a large organization, but at the end of the day, it’s not about the paycheck or the cool perks, it’s about something much greater than yourself and loving the work you are doing.