Bucky Badger stinks.
It’s a fact, so don’t call complaining.
During tryouts at the UW Field House Saturday afternoon, 22 Bucky hopefuls take turns wearing one of the mascot’s four identical heads.
While two judges watch, three bubbly aspirants, in Bucky costumes, follow a four-minute tape telling them to: Shower, dry off, watch TV, laugh, cry, be scared, greet a youngster, race to the Kohl Center and react to a last-second shot that goes… in! It’s surreal to observe several Buckys, standing in close proximity to each other, frantically waving their arms as if fire burns their humongous feet.
The role-playing portion of the tryouts is held in private behind a curtain in the Field House lobby.
When it’s over, the four Bucky heads sit upside down in a row, an image Andy Warhol would have enjoyed.
For two hours, Bucky’s aroma inside the 35-pound head has been mentioned by several people.
“It might be smelly, but that’s Bucky,” a judge says beforehand.
So if you stand alone after tryouts and, against rules, you stick your head into Bucky’s head (which maybe I did and maybe I didn’t), you smell — an, ugh, awful scent.
Running the Bucky tryouts is UW spirit squad director Geri Shuler, who was a UW cheerleader “a million years ago,” she says.
Before she splits the 22 aspirants into four groups, Shuler apologizes that no outsiders are allowed to watch tryouts. There are two people sitting in the stands at the arena’s far end.
“Are those someone’s parents?” she asks.
A female Bucky hopeful sheepishly raises her hand.
No one may watch any spirit squad tryout, Shuler explains, because cheerleader auditions were disrupted a few years ago by a noisy sorority cheering one of their “sisters.”
Then it’s on to business. Four stations are set up throughout the Field House. There’s role-playing, 40 points; dancing, 30 points; props, 20 points; and coordination/push-ups, 10 points.
The dancing portion provides the most unintentional laughs. Each person, without the costume on, must boogie to snippets of wildly different tunes.
For instance, one poor aspirant flails his body to music by New-Ager Enya, the Village People, hip-hopper Montell Jordan and the UW band’s version of “Louie Louie.”
Another person’s dance moves pretty much consist of holding his foot and hopping around.
At the props station, the “Buckys” improvise with whatever item they’re given. One quick-witted student cleverly turns a wig into a cat.
For judging coordination, three male cheerleaders lift aspirants overhead, holding them by their feet. When a bulky “Bucky” candidate tries it, he nearly topples onto the cheerleader behind him.
UW junior Matt Malecki was one of the Buckys this year, but he must try out again.
“I did 31 push-ups against Illinois last fall,” says Malecki, noting how Bucky does a push-up for every point the UW scores in football. “It’s not that bad to do in the costume. You don’t have to go down as far because (Bucky’s) nose is so long.”
UW sophomores Mike Pisani and Jenny Lauer join Malecki in their group. Pisani is an education major from Hurley in northern Wisconsin. He says his mom called him this morning to offer ideas for the tryout’s dance portion.
He hopes someday to be Bucky at a football game before nearly 80,000 fans.
“It’s as close as you can get to that (excitement) without being struck by some great athletic gift,” Pisani says, “which I don’t see happening to me any time soon.”
Lauer is one of four women trying out. Two years ago, the UW had its first female Bucky.
At high school in Sacramento, Calif., Lauer was a cheerleader and also served as the school’s mascot, a bear.
She’s trying out today with a bad cold and still recovering from shoulder surgery. But she has an answer ready if she’s picked for one of the final interviews.
Ask her why she wants to be Bucky, she says: “I think Bucky is an icon for this university and all of Wisconsin basically.”
When the trio completes the role-playing portion in Bucky’s costume, Pisani is happy with his performance.
“The head bangs around a lot, and your mouth is where the chin is,” he says. “But it’s cool.”
Two days later, the judges chose four Buckys, including Malecki. Pisani was a finalist. Danny Nicholas, a UW junior and Bucky judge, and another student enter their third year as the mascot so they’re exempt from tryouts.
Every month beginning in September, the Buckys will divide up 30 to 40 events, from football games to appearances at day care facilities.
Malecki is looking forward to being Bucky at UW hockey games again.
Skating in the costume goes easily, he says, but he has “taken some high-speed collisions into the boards.”
The Buckys aren’t paid, but perks exist. All the Buckys went to Disney World last year for a competition among college mascots. Bucky, with Nicholas inside, finished fifth.
(Big Al, an elephant representing the University of Alabama, won.)
For an undisclosed fee, Bucky appears each year at a couple of weddings.
“We have requests all the time to lead the bride down the aisle,” Nicholas says. “But Bucky shouldn’t go that far. We go to the receptions, though. We get the party started.”