ST. BONAVENTURE (March 31) – Ten minutes before the basketball game and the Bona Wolf’s head wouldn’t stay on. Crunching up old towels and t-shirts given out at halftime, Waheed Ameen finally jammed the Wolf head onto his and ran onto the Bob Lanier Court.
Greeted by screaming fans, the Wolf ran in front of the arena’s student section and danced. Two students in the front row, one wearing a banana costume, lifted the Wolf and passed him through the crowd.
“The Bona Wolf represents passion,” Ameen said, “because once you put on the costume, you realize how crazy and passionate the fans are, and my job was to make the Wolf reflect that and to get them even more excited.”
The Bona Wolf is one of the 14 college mascots in the Atlantic 10 conference to which St. Bonaventure University athletics belongs, said Steve Watson, director of intercollegiate athletics.
Watson said the A-10 has Bonaventure’s Bona Wolf, Charlotte’s Norm the Niner, Dayton’s Rudy Flyer, Duquesne’s Duke, Fordham’s Ram, George Washington’s George the Colonial and La Salle’s Explorer. Also Massachusetts’ Sam the Minuteman, Rhode Island’s Rhody the Ram, Richmond’s Spidey the Spider, St. Joseph's Hawk, Saint Louis’ Billiken, Temple’s Owl and the Xavier’s D'Artagnan the Musketeer.
“Each college mascot has its own traditions,” said Watson. “That’s why mascots carry so much meaning for each college.“
Athletic directors said the Bona Wolf, Rhody the Ram and Sam the Minuteman’s identities are confidential.
“We want the costume to represent the mascot, rather than the student underneath,” Watson said. “If people know who [the student] is, it ruins the magic.”
Don DiJulia, director of athletics at St. Joseph’s University, said the student chosen to embody the Hawk is introduced at the first game of the season.
“The elected student gets a full scholarship,” said DiJulia. “And fans and alumni want to celebrate that with the student.”
The Hawk is the only mascot the A-10 conference allows to travel with the basketball team.
“The Hawk hasn’t missed a game, home or away, since 1955,” DiJulia said. “It represents the committed, unflappable, never-say-die spirit of the university.”
DiJulia said the Hawk participates in more than just basketball games.
“It makes a lot of campus appearances, goes to senior days for other sports and has been at weddings and funerals.” He said.
Jana Ross, assistant athletic director for marketing and fan development at Richmond University, said the Richmond Spider participates in charity events, weddings, fundraisers and football games.
“The Spider gets really busy,” she said, “so we also hire a professional to wear the costume.”
Ross said the Richmond Spider is the only spider mascot in the nation.
“The Spider got its name from a pitcher whose lanky arms and stretching kick confused batters,” said Ross. “The name was first used to describe the pitcher, and is now used to symbolize Richmond’s pride and athletic success.”
Thorr Bjorn, director of athletics at Rhode Island University, said the Ram mascot’s name originated from Rhode Island’s farmland.
Bjorn said one student volunteer is elected to wear the Ram costume each year.
“We get our alumni association to choose the new student mascot,” said Bjorn. “So the Ram is used to maintain strong bonds with our alumni as well as our current student body.”
Bjorn said the Ram mascot works at least five hours a week doing basketball games, fundraisers and community events.
Ameen said his season-long mascot career took five to 10 hours a week.
“I didn’t know it was going to be so busy,” he said. “You really need to be dedicated because there are a lot of games and other events on and off campus you need to go to.”
Michelle Scannell, the marketing and promotions athletics coordinator, said the Bona Wolf participates in Spring Into Bonaventure, a week for admitted students and their parents to visit the campus. The Wolf travels with the soccer team to readings at local elementary schools.
“Admissions uses it [the Wolf] to advertise Bonaventure,” Scannell said. “The Bona Wolf is a huge symbol for the school, representing Division I athletics, especially basketball. It’s an icon that fans and students remember and like.”
Sophomore basketball fan Jillian Murphy never missed a game. She sat in the front row of the student section every time.
“I love the energy in the student section,” said Murphy, “but you can tell the crowd gets way more excited when the Bona Wolf is there. Everyone starts trying to jump on it or hug it.”
Ameen said he liked being the Bona Wolf.
“Maybe being the mascot was really busy, and maybe the costume smelled like sweaty socks and mildew,” the sophomore said. “But it was so cool to stand in front of an excited crowd and represent something people love about Bonaventure.”