It's game day and Rick Wetmore steps onto the Franklin Field turf like the other rookies suited up in a Quaker uniform. He's nervous. He's excited. He's hardly recognizable. Indeed, Wetmore, a Wharton junior, is a rookie all right. It's his first day as Penn's oxymoronic fighting mascot -- the life-size, bobbing-head caricature that's a cross between the giant Quaker Oats dude and Ben Franklin on an acid trip. "There are lots of things that could go wrong -- like the head falling off," Wetmore says. "Then everyone would know who I am." Leaving his Weightman Hall dressing room, he lets out an energetic "Here we go." But heading down the stairs to the field entrance, he gets those opening day jitters. He neurotically adjusts the styrofoam head, worried again that it might fall off. Wandering onto the field, Murphy's Law of first day performances holds almost true: His head remains fastened, but as with most anything else, what can go wrong does. With moist air and grey skies overhead, the Quaker can't go out on the field until the end of the first quarter and rain forces him to head back to the dressing room early. Water could ruin the costume. Plus, the wet weather -- which caused even some sure-footed fans to slip -- makes navigating the stands extremely difficult "when you can't see out of the face." Initially, the Quaker's performance is full of rookie blunders -- the types of mistakes brushed aside with experience but evident among first timers: As a group of freshman girls cheer him on like a boy-band lead singer, the Quaker gives a timid wave and a slight nod -- not an exaggerated hug. A few elderly alumni offer a loyal salute but the Quaker, ignorant of his surroundings, meanders on. And when the Penn cheerleaders get down for the requisite push-ups after a Red and Blue touchdown, the Quaker forgets to count. Even Wetmore is critical of his performance. "I have to lose a lot of inhibition," he says. "It's really hard to go out there and not care what anyone thinks. As with anything, it takes time." But building on the crowd's enthusiasm midway through the second quarter, Wetmore gains confidence and shows the crowd he's just as agreeable as star running back Kris Ryan. It's pure Red and Blue magic when the Quaker zeroes in on Connor Milhoan, a 4-year-old fan from Delaware. The boy's eyes light up when the mascot gives him a treat and a high-five to boot. And when the Quaker joins a line of shirtless freshmen -- who spell out UPENN on their chests -- he's able to pump up the rest of the crowd with a few rousing cheers. Such moments are what makes the experience -- even when difficult -- a labor of love for Wetmore. "The best thing is when people stand up and cheer," he explains. "When a fan points to you and says OYou're the man!' -- that's fun." Still, being Penn's Quaker can be grueling -- something Wetmore is only beginning to find out. Since Wetmore stepped into the mascot costume less than a week ago, he's had to learn some of the cheerleaders' dance routines and lifts in just a few short practices. And he spent some time with the Penn Band to ensure that he doesn't swing his arm on a wrong beat during the Red and Blue, like a freshman during orientation. "It looks bad for the school if the Quaker screws up the arm-waving thing for the song," Wetmore explains. And while Wetmore is excited to be a part of the great Quaker tradition, the mascot's appearance schedule is tight. Indeed, for more than 40 years, the Quaker mascot has appeared at every home football and basketball game. And Wetmore even plans to cheer on the less popular sports teams in uniform, as well as visit the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and other community organizations. But Wetmore realizes that if he is to fill the Quaker's large head, he'll have to improve. He says he'll contact 2000 College graduate Paul Manion, who wore the mascot's uniform since 1998, for lessons. And he'll ask the New Jersey Devil, with whom he vacationed last summer, for tips. He's even considering mascot camp to polish his skills. Indeed, Wetmore knows the responsibility he carries on his shoulders. "This right here is school spirit," the sweat-soaked mascot says as he lifts off the styrofoam head. "I'll be in this suit as much as I can -- or at least as much as I can tolerate the smell."Comments powered by Disqus
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