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No Bears Need Apply
By Meg Torbert

Philip Kolling '06 is trying out for a part, but it's a challenging role. For one thing, he's not allowed to speak. He has to wear headgear that looks like a large, furry pumpkin, and with it on he can't see very well, especially at knee level, which is the height of most of his future audience. He's also wearing a thick, hairy shirt, and the temperature inside is rising. But the judges' panel has no mercy: What they want to see is jumping. Lots of jumping and dancing around, and no visible sweating.

It appears that anyone who wants to be Wild E. Cat—as the students who have shown up for the spring Wild E. Cat tryouts are finding out—better not be a chicken.

Wild E. Cat, the 6-foot-tall UNH mascot who appears at varsity games to hug the smallest fans, high-five teenyboppers and lead the faithful in cheers, needs help. There's no way one volunteer—and certainly not Sue Engel, who is Wild E. Cat at the men's and women's ice hockey games, and has a day job—can possibly show up at every home game for football, basketball, gymnastics and volleyball, too.

As a result, a panel of four, including Engel, has gathered today in Lundholm Gym to watch as Kolling shakes his booty in the best Wild E. Cat tradition, waves his arms at an imaginary crowd and pretends to swim on Lundholm Gym's wooden floor. Next come the questions: What would you do if a kid were afraid? How would you react if the ref made a bad call? And the clincher: Are you available this weekend?

While Deborah Newman '06, captain of the women's soccer team, suits up for her turn, Engel takes a minute to recount the ups and downs of mascot volunteering. Just about the only detraction is the suit itself. It's a sauna in there, she explains. Last year, the university bought a new version, which came with a fan in the head and a pouch for an ice pack in the jacket. But hair tends to get caught in the fan—very painful—and the ice pack "keeps me cool right up to the National Anthem," says Engel. Then there was the time at a December 2004 hockey game against Minnesota when Goldie Gopher checked her into the stands; Engel ended up with some bruises. That, it turns out, was a planned stunt that went awry.

Minor drawbacks aside, being Wild E. Cat is a blast, says Engel. She loves children and loves their reaction to her big furry alter ego. "I feel like I'm part of the team," says Engel, a former graduate student who has taught courses at UNH. "Through Wild E., I've made so many friends of fans."

So, what does Engel the mascot pro do when kids are afraid of Wild E. Cat? "I hug the parent," she says.

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