The Mountaineer Mascot is an icon at WVU.
The face of WVU and a representative for the entire state of West Virginia, the Mountaineer has become one of the most recognizable college mascots in America and a symbol of pride for West Virginians.
The person overseeing the mascot and its growth for the last 13 years has been Sonja Wilson. Wilson officially became the Mountaineer’s advisor in 2006 when Brady Campbell was filling the role. However, she has been working with the Mountaineer ever since 1990 when the mascot was Natalie Tennant. Now, after nearly 30 years of working with one of West Virginia’s biggest celebrities, Wilson has decided to retire from her full-time position on Friday.
Other than who is in the role, the Mountaineer has not changed too much over the years. The iconic buckskin outfit and musket have been staples of the mascot for more than 80 years. There have been more than 60 people who have been the Mountaineer Mascot since the title became official in 1934.
Wilson said before the Mountaineer title became official in 1934, students would have a competition and choose a Mountaineer without any involvement from the University.
While the Mountaineer mascot does have a rich history, the modern era of the Mountaineer is full of Wilson’s influence.
Wilson said, prior to her appointment as the advisor, the students playing the Mountaineer could spend an upward of $5,000 out of their own pocket to fulfill their duties and make all of their appearances.
“The University came together and said, ‘We can’t have this, we can’t have a student spending that type of money,’”Wilson said. “They ended up coming up with a structure for the Mountaineer and different departments put in money.”
Wilson said University Relations, Athletics and Student Life all now put in money to help pay for the expenses of being the Mountaineer.
Another change Wilson helped with was the development of an appearance request form. Now, if someone wants the Mountaineer to make an appearance, they have to fill out a form explicitly stating where, when and why they want the Mountaineer and what exactly the Mountaineer will be doing.
“It just makes everybody more accountable for what’s going on,” Wilson said. “I can’t even imagine if the Mountaineer did all of their [own] scheduling now. With social media, people message the Mountaineer and what he or she does is say ‘get in touch with [Sonja Wilson], or better yet, fill out this form.’”
Wilson handles the appearance requests and the Mountaineer’s schedule. She said the Mountaineer usually does 200 athletic or University appearances a year and 200 to 250 other appearances. She said she gets about four or five appearance requests every day.
“The appearances have probably tripled over time,” Wilson said.
Another recent change is that Mountaineers are now only allowed to serve in the role for one year. Wilson said this was so more people can have the opportunity to be the Mountaineer and so the Mountaineers do not get burned out by making so many appearances year after year.
“I think they love the job so much, even when it was two years, that it didn’t really matter,” Wilson said. “But it’s very, very, very demanding. Completely demanding.”
Even after retirement, Wilson will continue to work with the Mountaineer one day a week. She said she wants to continue to work with the Mountaineer as long as she is healthy and able.
Above everything else, Wilson said she will never forget how excited people get to see the Mountaineer and how happy it makes them.
“When somebody calls me or fills out the form, they are just so excited. Sometimes I think we take it for granted because I really do have the best job at the University, I swear I do,” Wilson said. “I cannot believe how excited some of these places are [to see the Mountaineer].”