The Student News Site of Northern Michigan University

The North Wind

The North Wind

The North Wind

Meet the Staff
Molly Birch
Molly Birch

My name is Molly, and I am in my second year at NMU. I come from Midland, MI, probably one of the most boring places on earth. However, we do have the only Tridge in the world, so that’s pretty nifty...

The North Wind Editorial Sessions
About us

The North Wind is an independent student publication serving the Northern Michigan University community. It is partially funded by the Student Activity Fee. The North Wind digital paper is published daily during the fall and winter semesters except on university holidays and during exam weeks. The North Wind Board of Directors is composed of representatives of the student body, faculty, administration and area media.

TIMES ARE CHANGING — FAFSA announced changes to its filing system in February.
Editorial — The "better" FAFSA
North Wind Editorial BoardFebruary 27, 2024

Celebrating ‘Big Willy Style’ at NMU

Not only did he have to dance and cheer for three NMU sports games on Saturday, but Wildcat Willy also had to find some time to blow out the candles for his 25th birthday.

Fans, students, coaches, athletes and community members young and old gathered in the Vandament Arena to celebrate the birthday of NMU’s favorite feline.

In an event to kickoff the winter sports season, NMU athletic staff hosted the first ever Wildcat Willy’s b-day Bash to get the new year off on the right track.

“We feel like after Christmas there is nothing going on and we don’t really get our fans involved, so we decided to do a winter thing just to see what happens,” said Brian Gaudreau, head of the event and associate director of programming for the Athletic Department.

Story continues below advertisement

The day was full of NMU-themed games such as pin the tail on the Willy and a Wildcat cookie decorating contest.

Willy had a birthday cake and birthday throne to sit in, along with presents for him and his friends. The meaning of the party was not only to get more fans at the games, but to show appreciation for NMU’s mascot.

“For us, Willy is like the symbol of Northern Michigan University athletics. But also he is the symbol of Northern Michigan University as a whole,” said Bridget Beerman assistant director of athletics.

How the Wildcat came to be a symbol of NMU didn’t just start 25 years ago. NMU athletes were first referred to as ‘Cats in 1935 when head basketball coach C.B. Hedgcock used this name for his zone defense.

The name stuck with NMU ever since, and in 1970 it was actually brought to life when Northern purchased a live 35-pound female bobcat. She was named Bobby and was declawed and semi-domesticated.

Legend has it that in 1971, the cat escaped from her cage and was later spotted down by the docks. A cat was eventually captured by two NMU students and taken to a veterinarian.

The vet then informed them that this bobcat had all of its claws and was not domesticated. The cat would later be set free and the real Bobby was never heard from or seen again.

The Wildcat Willy as we know him, was created by former Willy and art student at NMU Jay McQuillan in the late 1980s – hence the 25th birthday. The art program worked together with head hockey coach Rick Comley to make a definitive symbol of Northern athletics.

Since then Wildcat Willy has been almost the same as he is today, with the buck teeth, the giant yellow head and the clumsy feet.

Willy is a member of the cheerleading squad, and since cheerleading is not a varsity sport, the person who is acting the role of Wildcat Willy is a volunteer.

Beerman said there are currently five students who wear the costume and the ticket to being a good Willy is just like anything else in athletics.

“What makes the good people good at it is that they really want to be doing it, and they have a lot of fun doing it,” she said.

But being Wildcat Willy is not all fun and games. The position of being NMU’s biggest fan does come with some difficulties, including staying silent while in dress.

Beerman, who has herself been Willy, said the hardest things are the heat from the massive head and dealing with the clumsy feet.

At the Berry Events Center the stairs are actually shorter than the feet, so running up and down them can be a hassel.

Since hockey is a big sport at Northern, a Willy who can skate is a necessity. Beerman said at every hockey home game there are two people playing mascot.

“One will do the walking part and the one will hide while the other does the skating part,” Beerman said. “We don’t allow ever for both of them to be seen at the same time.”

Willy tries to make appearances at home athletic events for every sport, and he works with athletic promotions. All this school spirit can be a strain on the busy bobcat. While entertaining children at a promotional event this past summer, one child noticed his suit was getting ragged.

“A little kid looked at Willy and said ‘Willy you have hole in your knee,”‘ Beerman said. “And another kid was like, ‘Oh no Willy’s legs are hairy.”‘

Beerman said Willy quickly ran out of the room because they didn’t want the kids to wonder if there was a person in the costume.

“What would probably happen next is kids would start asking is Santa Clause real and we didn’t want to get involved with that,” she said.

To deal with the problem the athletic department purchased a new suit for nearly $3,000. The suit came with a birth certificate for Aug. 18, 2008. Another early birthday present Willy got this past year was a cooling suit for the heated athletic events. With the new attire Wildcat Willy is sure to keep on dancing and cheering for many more birthdays.

Athletic Director Ken Godfrey spoke for Willy and said if the mascot could talk after his birthday party and reflect on his 25 years at NMU he would just say:

“That he loves all Wildcat fans.”

Editor’s note: The historical information was gathered from Russell Magnaghi’s book “A Sense of Time” and information provided by NMU’s Athletic Department.

More to Discover