For several decades, the West Virginia University Mountaineer mascot has symbolized the rich heritage and cultural pride of the Mountain State and its people. In addition to sporting events, the mascot attends community functions and schools as a goodwill ambassador for the university. The costume of the Mountaineer is an idealized version of the clothes of the frontier settler of Western Virginia, a full buckskin suit and coonskin cap. To rally fans’ spirits at university sporting events, he roams the sidelines, greets fans, and fires an authentic, muzzle-loading rifle.
In the 1920s, the first, unofficial Mountaineers appeared spontaneously at WVU sporting events. Early volunteers—Burton ‘‘Irish’’ Crow, Lawson Hill, William ‘‘Buckwheat’’ Jackson, and others—garbed themselves in flannel shirts, bearskin capes and coonskin caps. In 1936, the Mountain honorary society selected the first official buckskin-clad Mountaineer from among the WVU student body, Boyd Harrison ‘‘Slim’’ Arnold. In 1990, Natalie Tennant made history by becoming the first female Mountaineer.
The Mountain honorary society continues to screen student applicants for the post. Finalists are chosen for their outstanding character and their enthusiasm. At a WVU basketball game, the finalists compete in a traditional ‘‘cheer off.’’ The winning mascot receives a tuition waiver or scholarship.
The Mountaineer mascot figure was first used in commerce in 1972 and registered as a U.S. trademark in 1985. Mountaineer memorabilia, including retired rifles and costumes, are housed in a glass case in the Vandalia lounge of the Mountainlair student union on the downtown campus. A bronze statue of the Mountaineer graces the Mountainlair front lawn.
Written by Mary Rodd Furbee