Meet some of the people behind the mask of WSU’s iconic mascot.
Dean N. Grevé
Dean N. Grevé (’81 Comm.) is credited with creating the character’s signature swagger. As the first student dedicated to playing the role, he’s referred to as the Butch godfather—or “furfather”—and beginning of the lineage. “I was the first full-time Butch,” he says. “I always will be. I’m very proud of that.”
Grevé portrayed Butch from 1979 to 1981, his junior and senior years. “I said I’d do it, but I wanted to do it full time. I wanted to be Butch. And there was no opposition. There was relief. ‘Let Dean do this. That’s fine.’”
Grevé had grown up on Whidbey Island. In Pullman, he experienced a bit of a culture shock—in a good way. “When I went to Wazzu, I had no idea about this undeniable Cougar spirit,” he says. “It takes over. I loved it. I took great pride in it.”
His first year as Butch, the costume didn’t have any clothes. “Butch was just a big furry suit. I said, ‘OK, look, what about this San Diego Chicken? Everybody loves him. He wears a shirt.’ So I got Butch some clothes. I went to the Bookie, and I bought a cotton jersey—I still have it—and these white athletic shorts, which were very short. The second year of Butch, the football team gave me an old jersey and some pants, and Butch became more official. But that first year, he just had some clothes from the Bookie that I had to buy myself.”
Grevé was still developing the character, “creating the persona of who Butch is, creating a persona that allows you to do things that you could never do in street clothes. To me, his attitude was take-no-prisoners: I’m friends with everyone, but I am the alpha in whatever space I’m in. He’s going to control that space. Sometimes he’s soft and loving and down on one knee interacting with kids. To them, you’re just a big furry stuffed animal. But Butch needs to have the same personality at each game. He needs to always be in character. And he needs to be respectful because he’s representing the University.”
Perfecting the Butch’s mannerisms took a lot of practice. Grevé repeatedly sauntered down the hallway in his fraternity and posed in front of the mirror, trying different movements. “I had to figure out how to bring the costume to life,” he says. “It took a fair amount of mirror work to see how Butch would react in whatever the situation was. That’s how you learn to move in the suit. And I loved it. I absolutely loved it. I loved the freedom of it.”
With that freedom came responsibility. “You can’t lose focus,” Grevé says. “If you lose focus, if your mind is out of character, it shows through the costume. People see it. Sometimes, you’re on the field for a long time, hours even. You have to keep character. Butch isn’t you. You are Butch.”
One of his favorite moments as Butch was his first time crowd-surfing. Back then, the Butch head “was constructed on a football helmet, and it was held on by a chinstrap,” Grevé says. “I’m being passed down the entire stadium, and my head’s twisting off, and I can’t see. Occasionally, I see sky but that’s about it. You didn’t know what was happening. It was the first crowd-surfing for Butch. It was spontaneous. It wasn’t choreographed. It was all impromptu.”
Grevé didn’t experience stage fright. “It was just the opposite,” he says. “I love big crowds. I love being in front of big crowds. I couldn’t wait to get out there. You put on the fur, and it changes you. You tap into a part of you that has so much energy and freedom and this attitude of everything’s great. I never felt more in touch with who I wanted to be than when I was Butch. Everybody loves Butch. You get to bring a lot of joy and happiness and laughs to people. It’s a great feeling. It’s liberating. When you’re out there in the suit, it’s empowering.”
It’s also a bit stinky. “You have no idea,” Grevé says. “To my knowledge, as Butch, I don’t recall that suit being cleaned until after basketball season. That’s when it was cleaned. We carried it around in a big black garbage bag. When it tore you’d get a new one. When we played the UW in Seattle—I think it was my second year—I brought the suit home. My step-father said, ‘I think something’s dead. I think something died in the wall.’ It was Butch. It was the suit. I wore a lot of cologne and tried different things to try to mask the smell.”
The first Butch T. Cougar was also the first Mariner Moose. “That’s some evolution,” says Grevé, who was living in Seattle and working as a producer for Northwest Afternoon when he saw a promo on ESPN advertising tryouts for the Seattle Mariners’ new mascot. It was 1990. He was 31. “I thought, ‘I’m definitely going to audition. Then I got it, and it was great. I just did it that one season. I have the jersey from the moose, and I have my moose paws. They let me keep the paws.”
From Seattle, Grevé moved to New York City, where he worked as a producer for The Montel Williams Show. He’s since retired and is living in in West Bloomfield, Michigan. His wife, Monica Gayle (’82 Comm.), is a news anchor for Fox 2. They’ve been married more than 25 years. When people would ask their secret, Grevé says, “I would tell them the secret is to marry a Coug, and my wife would say she married the Coug.”
“Back in the day, the original cougar—a live cougar—used to live in a cage on Stadium Way. I remember, as a freshman in ’77, walking up to the cage to marvel at his presence,” says Darrell Turner (’82 Arch.), the second Butch. He wore the suit from 1981 to 1982.
By then, Turner—who trained to be Butch during spring of his senior and performed as Butch during his fifth year—was already part of the Rally Squad. “We were the knuckleheads painting game signs, cheering, doing push-ups in the endzone after each Cougar score, doing whatever we could to support the cheer squad for getting the crowd involved,” he says. “I can’t remember who our advisor was at the time, but—my senior year—she called the entire Rally Squad into a room. She had this black Hefty bag with her, and she asked, ‘Is anyone interested in being Butch?’ You could’ve heard a pin drop in the room. For several moments, everyone looked around at one another. I’m thinking, ‘Nobody wants to be Butch? Nobody wants to wear the outfit?’ I’m sitting there, around this large conference table looking around, and I’m thinking, ‘Are you kidding me?’ So I raised my hand and said, ‘I’ll do it.’ She tossed the Hefty bag at me, and said, ‘OK, suit up tomorrow. We’ve got a game.’”
At that time, Butch—the costumed mascot, not live cougar—“was a fresh idea. It was new.” And, Turner says, “There was no budget for anything.” There also weren’t many rules. “There were seven.” Mostly, “you just did what you thought was appropriate.” Of course, Turner says, “you couldn’t talk. Everything was nonverbal communication and body language. Don’t ask me how I learned, but I just sort of figured out how to act and mime and do funny poses.”
Turner broke the no-talking rule twice. Once, before a basketball game, he gave a referee a heads-up about a new gag involving an eye chart he had made. “You can shoo me away or play along or whatever,” Turner remembers telling him. “During timeout, I walked out on the court, took out my eye chart, and pointed to it—and the crowd just loved it. Even the referee was smiling. Then, he shoo-ed me away.”
The other time he talked in character—something that remains a big no-no—involved a young fan. Turner was walking around the first tier at Beasley Coliseum, schmoozing and posing with fans for photos about an hour before the start of a basketball game, when someone pulled his tail. He turned around, and “It was this little red-headed kid,” Turner recalls. “He couldn’t have been more than five. But he knew enough to know better. I kind of wiggled my paw at him and played with him a little bit and went on my way. Then the same thing happened again. He did it again. He would not leave my tail alone. Thankfully, the tail was secured around my waist or it was likely to have come off. “After the boy pulled his tail for the third time, “I playfully turned around and said, ‘Kid, look, don’t pull my tail,’ both of his eyes got as big as watermelons. He turned and ran off, and I never saw him again.”
Turner didn’t experience stage fright. In fact, he says, “It was very freeing because nobody knew who you were. They knew who you should be. And I know I got better at it as time went on. Like anything, the more you do something the better you’re going to get at it. The venue was your playground, and everyone was happy to see you. I must have hugged every cheerleader in the Pac-10 at least once that year. No Husky cheerleaders, though. I didn’t make any grand entrances into the stadium riding a three-wheeler. I would simply go interact with the crowd. Go have fun. That’s all you had to be concerned about. Never once was I reprimanded.”
He reprimanded a few of his fraternity brothers, though. “They knew I was on the Rally Squad. And here I am, coming back to the house carrying this big old bag. Nobody else knew—except for a couple of high-school classmates and my family, the cheerleaders, and Rally Squad. There was just a small circle of people who knew I was Butch. At football games, they used to let students in early. And there were a couple of times guys in my fraternity would pour beer on me. I remember at one house meeting, telling them, “You don’t pour beer on Butch The Cougar, the mascot for the University. You just don’t do it. Just don’t do it. Soon after that, another couple of fraternity brothers poured beer on me again, so at another house meeting I told them again. It took two times. Back in the day, it was pretty crazy—lots of beer flowing on campus. It was a pretty wild time.”
One of his favorite moments as Butch took place at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum just before the start of an away-game versus USC in 1981. He was all suited up, walking out of the tunnel where the players emerge to take the field, and heard a roar from the crowd. “My first thought was: ‘I’m going to get run over. I better get my tail out of the way.’ I looked behind me, and there was no one behind me, and the crowd was getting louder and louder. They were all cheering because Butch was there. When it dawned on me, I went, ‘Oh my gosh, this is for me. This is for Butch.’ It was our Southern California alumni and supporters and fans, and I must have spent a half-hour to an hour taking pictures in the crowd. I will never forget that feeling. It still gives me the chills to think back upon that moment.”
Another highlight: Going to the Holiday Bowl that year. It was the first bowl game for WSU since the Rose Bowl in 1931, and the band, cheer squad, and rally squad traveled together. “We road-tripped down on several buses and returned to Pullman on a chartered plane. It was—beyond words—too much fun!”
His reveal—at the final men’s basketball game of the year—was another memorable moment. “If you see the picture,” Turner says, “I have a big smile on my face. Being Butch The Cougar was so much fun, and here I am taking my head off and taking the game ball to the referee and having people cheer for me. It was humbling, exiting, and an honor. You didn’t think too much about it until afterward when you go, ‘Wow, that was a really incredible moment.’”
Post-graduation, he suited up as Butch several times for special events. He portrayed Santa Butch at the holidays, appeared at several retirement parties, and participated in the opening of boating season in Seattle. “I was even on KOMO 4 news. Kathi Goertzen (’80 Comm.) wanted to play a joke on Steve Pool (a Husky) during his weather forecast for the Apple Cup. I came on studio during his presentation, and Steve was not too happy about it. Everyone in the studio enjoyed the prank and was laughing—except for Steve. I got changed (into the Butch costume) in her office. I’m probably one of the few people who can say they were in their underwear in Kathi Goertzen’s office. I met her a few times afterward, and I shared this story with her. We would just laugh about it.”
Being Butch led to him meeting his wife Deanna, (’81 Gen. St.). In 1982, the fall after he graduated, he took a bus back to Pullman to appear one last time as Butch at that year’s homecoming game. “She recognized me from campus, but thought I was too young,” he says. “I had this incredible baby face. So I never really interacted with her on campus. She was a liberal arts major, and I was in architecture so our paths didn’t really cross. It was on that homecoming bus that a fraternity brother, one of my best friends, introduced us. He looked at me, then he looked at her, and thought, ‘I think we may have a good match here.’ About six months later we wound up dating and eventually got married.”
When their daughter, Lauren Turner (‘16 Dig. Tech. & Cult.), attended WSU Pullman from 2012 to 2016, he says, “we were season ticket holders. We’d go over for every football game.”
In fall 2018, he attended the 40th anniversary event for alumni who had played Butch. The first-time event reunion took place the same weekend as ESPN College GameDay at WSU Pullman. “That was a huge event, that 40th birthday party for Butch,” says Turner, an architect and senior project manager for HOK Seattle. “Everything was perfect—the weather, having ESPN on campus, the victory over the Ducks, the crowd. All of us were introduced to the stadium and invited onto the field to lead a ‘Go Cougs.’ They set up tables during pregame activities behind the stadium, and they had these posters made for us. There were probably 20 to 30 BTCs around, and we would autograph them for people who came to the pre-game. That was a very cool experience—to autograph your pictures. Usually only famous athletes get to do that. To recognize Butch that way was a lot of fun and made you feel kind of special. You weren’t in the suit, but you were signing autographs. I would draw a paw print and sign it BTC.”
Now Turner is part of a private Facebook group for former Butches. “We call it the furr-ternity,” he says. “I think about being Butch fairly often. It was just a fun time. It’s a reminder of how lucky I was and how much fun I got to have. I just enjoyed it so much. It was more fun than I ever could have imagined. I look back on it fondly. I just really cherish it. It was an amazing experience, and I’m thankful that I had the opportunity.”
Butch was still part of the Rally Squad when Don Atkins (’87 Hum.) got the part. “We had 16 members. It was a two-year commitment,” he recalls. “We used to make and put up a lot of pre-game posters and support game-day events and activities. We got together a couple of times a week to plan and prepare for whatever was going on that weekend. Home games, we had extra things going on—pre-game rallies, bonfires.”
During games, the squad led the crowd in chants of “Go Cougs” and performed push-ups when the football team scored a touchdown. “I’ve done over 200 push-ups in a game,” Atkins says. “By the end of the season, we were in pretty good shape.”
Atkins doesn’t remember trying out for the role. But, he says, “You had to try out for Rally Squad.”
He was an outgoing student, a singer with the Crimson Company student show choir—“I even got to perform in concert with Foreigner as part of the group at Beasley”—and a former high-school athlete. “I played baseball, football, and soccer growing up,” he says. “That prepares you a lot for it.” But part of what makes a good Butch is an inherent quality, a character trait that Atkins simply describes as “the ability to get out and have fun with people.”
Atkins was on the Rally Squad during his junior and senior years—from 1985 to 1987. He was Butch his senior year. “Things were different then. We were part of the athletic department, but we weren’t as integrated as they are now. A lot of the things you did for Butch, you coordinated by yourself or with one or two other people who supported you. I can’t say that I miss it—it can be pretty smelly in that suit—but I enjoyed it.”
If a friend asked where he was during the game—his friends all knew he was on the Rally Squad—“I would tell them I was behind the scenes doing other things.” That always seemed to do the trick. And, “Usually, for game days, there were a lot of things going on. It could be two or three hours before the game, and the Rally Squad would be out doing things.”
Atkins didn’t follow a particular routine or strategy to psych himself up before a game. “Once you start getting dressed, you’re getting excited to get out there,” he says. “And once you put the mask on and you walk around and see how people react to you, it’s exciting. People get excited when Butch is around. You could do something as simple as dancing with a little kid to having the cheerleaders do this thing where they would throw you up and flip you over and you land on your feet. Coordinating with them to do that—and having them help you with how to do backflips and things like that—was always fun.”
These days, Atkins aims to come back to Pullman for home games three or four times per year. “I try to go to at least one away game a year, too.”
At the 40th birthday party for Butch, “I loved coming down on the field and being part of the camaraderie of the folks who were there. Like many sports or being in the military, there’s a closeness—a bond—you have because of your shared experience. That camaraderie (for former Butches) is unique because so few people have done it. It would be nice if we could coordinate and keep that community going. It’s always nice to talk online, but it’s just different to be able to get together in person and share stories. The more we’re together the more we have opportunities to collaborate and continue to push that legacy forward.”
So he hopes “to continue to build that community,” maybe adding annual Butch reunion barbecues and other meet-ups during homecoming. “I will definitely make an effort to go back because it was so much fun getting together with that group,” says Atkins, who lives in Sammamish and works in sales for the biopharmaceutical industry. “People love Butch. And Butch will always be there to support them no matter how the team is doing.”
Tami (Turek) Zapata
Tami (Turek) Zapata (’93 Biol.) was a cheerleader for about six years in junior high and high school before arriving at WSU. As a college freshman, she tried out for the squad, but didn’t make it. “At the time, the current Butch was dating my roommate,” says Zapata, noting he encouraged her to try out. “I thought, ‘I could do that.’”
Zapata played Butch for two years, from 1989 to 1991, as a sophomore and junior. Then, she cheered for WSU for two years, from 1991 to 1993—her last year as a fifth-year senior. So, she says, “I got to do both. It was pretty awesome.”
She stored the costume offsite—sometimes at the gym—so her sorority sisters wouldn’t spot it. “I never took it home with me,” she says, noting it was the same Butch suit that male Butches had worn. It was, she says, “pretty large. They had the football helmet inside fitted for me. My hair was down to my waist back then. I would wear a tank top and short shorts and a bra that kind of smashed me. It was really hot inside the suit. I would drink a ton of water. At the end of a game, I could just wring out my hair and wring out my clothes. I’d go to the locker room if I needed a rest, which I usually never did. For some reason—thank goodness—I never had to go to the bathroom. It’s a one-piece costume. It would a pain to take off and, besides, what bathroom would I use?”
Zapata didn’t let the suit get too smelly. “I would dry clean it all the time,” she says. “I would just drop it off at the dry cleaners and say, ‘I’m dropping this off for the current Butch. I work in the athletic department.’ I even kept the secret at the cleaners.”
She never got stage fright. “You put the mask on, and your kind of personality changes,” Zapata says. “It’s kind of amazing. It’s just like Halloween; when you put on a costume and mask, you act like that person, that character. You just automatically do it. It’s kind of a weird thing.”
And, as Butch, she says, “You can kind of get away with almost anything. You can kind of do whatever”—except talk.
If anyone acted unruly toward the mascot, she says, “I’d just walk away.” And, during away games, “I’d stay away from the away team and not wander as much. I’d stay on the field and not go up into the crowd as I would during a home game. I’d just kind of feel the situation out.”
At the Apple Cup in Seattle, she had a bodyguard. Butch was escorted onto the field and off.
Driving back from the west side at the end of spring break and basketball playoffs, she was pulled over for speeding near Othello. Her Butch head was outside of the bag that contained the costume, and the officer spotted it. “The cop found out I was Butch, and he actually did not give me a ticket,” Zapata says. “He thought that was the coolest thing.”
Because of her cheer background, she says, “I’d learn a lot of the moves the cheerleaders did and try to incorporate myself into their dances. I never did any back handsprings; that helmet was too heavy.”
But, “We did a move where the cheerleaders would grab my feet, and I’d fall forward and backward up in the air with the ‘Go Cougs’ sign. I’m glad they never dropped me. The years I was Butch we started the Jaws theme song. That was fun, and they still do it.”
Zapata also enjoyed riding onto the field in the scooter with the WSU flag in her hands and performing skits. Her mom helped out. “My mom is a seamstress,” Zapata says. “She made Butch a tux outfit, and she made him a Superman outfit.”
Zapata, now a procurement agent for Boeing who lives in Kirkland, doesn’t know of any other women who played Butch. At the 40th anniversary reunion for Butch, she was the only one. “I had quite a line of people wanting my autograph,” she says. “It was really cool. We all walked around campus with our cougar tails, and had a big tailgate party and barbecue. It was really fun.”
After earning a bachelor’s degree in sociology at Western Washington University, Dave Stogdill (’98 Elem. Ed.) came to WSU—where his sister, Yvonne (Stogdill) Malina (’96 Apparel, Merch., Des. & Tex.) was a cheerleader—to get his teaching credential.
“I would go to the games and watch her and saw this mascot running around. I was instantly drawn to the character, and it was something I knew I wanted to try and do. I think a big reason for that is I’m more of an introverted person, and the costume allowed me to become an extrovert. I was really, really shy when I was in high school and somewhat in college,” says Stogdill, who was born in Japan and grew up in Lacey. “The character really helped me come out of my shell. For me, that was kind of the start.”
Stogdill was WSU’s mascot from 1996 to 1998. He went on to become a professional mascot in the NFL and NBA, including serving as the first Blitz T. Seahawk for the Seattle Seahawks. He continues to work for the Charlotte Hornets, in North Carolina, as the manager of the team’s literacy program. Before that, he was Rufus Lynx for the then-named Bobcats. In all, his mascot career spans two decades.
Butch was the beginning. Stogdill ended up extending his time at WSU because he loved being Butch so much. “There were a couple of semesters I took the minimum to spread it out just because I was having so much fun as the character,” he says, noting that while he was student teaching, he was also working as Scorch, the mascot for the Portland Forest Dragons. “I’d drive down to Portland on the weekends and work their games, then come back and teach during the week. Once I graduated and moved onto the pros, I always used education as a platform.”
Stogdill rarely was nervous to perform. “My first gig as Butch I was a little nervous just because I’d never done it before,” he says. “But as soon as I put the head on, I’m a different person. And that did help take away some of the nerves. I feel like there’s a power to it. Never underestimate the power of fur. As soon as you put on the head, there’s a mental switch. You become Superman. You can do anything. There were times I was rappelling from the ceiling, as a pro, during rehearsal without the costume, and I would be nervous and sweating and freaking out. And then in the game with the costume on and the spotlights on, I’d jump on that rope and hang upside down like it was nothing.”
Besides his roommates finding out his secret identity, he believes there was only one time when his cover was blown. “One time a couple of my friends that I had a lot of classes with came over on a Sunday morning to pick me up to surprise me to go to breakfast. I was sleeping in because we had a game the night before. They came in and saw the costume, and they started freaking out. I was like, ‘You can’t tell anyone!’” Stogdill recalls. “It was just those two people who found out. Later, they said they kind of suspected. They kind of thought maybe it was me.”
The night of his reveal remains one of his favorite memories as Butch. It was, he says, “probably one of the biggest rock star moments of my life. Everywhere I went that night people would start pointing and whispering, ‘That’s him. That’s the guy.’ Guys would come up to you and tell you that you were awesome and buy you drinks, and girls would take pictures with you—and this was before social media. It was just a statement on how cool and what an iconic character the students and the University make Butch The Cougar.”
By comparison, he recalls one night in the late 1990s or early aughts when he went out in Seattle. Someone asked what he did. “I told them I was the Seahawks mascot. I don’t know if they didn’t believe me or what, but they didn’t seem too impressed. Later it came out that I went to WSU and I was Butch, and they were like, ‘Wow you were Butch? That is so cool!’”
Stogdill was Blitz from 1998 to 2002, when he went overseas to serve as Slyly, the mascot for the Hiroshima Toyo Carp professional baseball team. After a year, he returned to the states and auditioned for the Sacramento Kings. He didn’t get the job. “But the guy who got it was the Carolina Panthers mascot,” says Stogdill, who in turn tried out for that role. He was Sir Purr about a year and a half from 2003 to 2004. During his tenure with the team, the Panthers went to the Super Bowl. “Just like the Rose Bowl, it was surreal,” he says. “Janet Jackson’s infamous wardrobe malfunction, I saw that live.”
Early on in his career, he would prep for games by listening to the rap-rock music of Limp Bizkit, particularly the song “Rollin’.” Says Stogdill, “It was the ‘90s. That music would get me pumped up. It would get me in the mood.” Later on though, “I didn’t rely on it as much. I didn’t need it. I knew how to get in the mood without having to psych myself up.”
Some professional mascots are former gymnasts. And, to help get to the NBA—his longtime dream—Stogdill took tumbling and hip-hop dance classes and learned American Sign Language. “In college, I’d heard people could be a mascot for a living. My ultimate goal was to make it to the NBA. The NBA gigs are the most sought-after. They’re all about entertainment. An NBA game log is like a script. I knew I had to be specialized to make it to the NBA,” Stogdill says. “And, if I didn’t make it, I’d fall back on my career as a teacher.”
Stogdill auditioned for the Charlotte Bobcats in 2005 and played Rufus Lynx for nine years. In 2014, when the team transitioned to the Hornets, Stogdill moved to its department of corporate social responsibility. He still makes appearances from time to time at schools and events, but no longer works games. “I have a wife and a daughter,” he says. “Being a mascot in the NBA, you’re working evenings, holidays, weekends. Now, I have the best of both worlds. I have the ultimate dream job for a former mascot.”
Listen to Stogdill on the Between the Fur podcast.
His mascot days started in high school. “Some friends and I got dressed up in goofy outfits and would lead the crowds at different sporting events. When I graduated, I still had the itch. I still wanted to do it,” says Zach Wurtz (x’07 Comm.), who grew up in a small town in south central Pennsylvania and dreamed of moving to New York City.
Plans shifted his senior year. “My 18th birthday was two days after 9/11,” he says. After that, “I was looking to leave the East Coast. I was ready for a change.” With family in Vancouver and Yakima, Wurtz decided to head west to Washington. A year later, in 2002, he started at WSU. “We have a bunch of Cougs in the family,” says Wurtz, who auditioned for Butch fall of his freshman year. “The first thing I did when I got to campus was call the spirit coordinator and say, ‘I want to try out to be Butch.’”
Wurtz trained for the role the following spring and served as Butch through the end of basketball season 2006. The following year, as a fifth-year senior, he served as ASWSU president. “You get so used to being Butch that you have to remember that you have to turn it off,” Wurtz says. “When you take the head and tail back off and you go back outside with your regular clothes on, you go back to standard obscurity. If I was ever walking around campus as Butch and I’d see a friend, I might knock his books out of his hands. Even as myself I couldn’t go up to my best friend and do that. But Butch could. It wasn’t so much that you had to psych yourself for the role as you had to tone yourself down afterward.”
Wurtz didn’t get stage fright as Butch, but he got embarrassed a couple times in the role. One time that stands out: a slip, trip, and fall. “It was in New Mexico, and I was running out with the flag during the second half and—right in front of their student section—I get the smallest tap on my shoulder and I trip over myself and the place is packed,” he says. “I had fallen down as Butch on purpose before, and it was hilarious every time, but when you do it for real that’s a different story. And it was obvious I didn’t meant to do it.”
Another gaffe took place when “we were probably getting ready for like the Lentil Parade or something. I was with the marketing and promotions coordinator. We had gone to get the trailer with the football helmet on it. It was at this yard where the movie theater now sits. We’re riding it back to campus and the thing comes unhooked and I’m in the Butch suit. I have to get out and chase it down a hill. I have to chase it down Bishop so it doesn’t crash into cars at the bottom of the hill. The sight of Butch running after the football helmet trailer down Bishop in Pullman must have been something to see.”
He managed to stop the trailer. But he wasn’t able to keep everyone from finding out he was Butch. “My roommate knew I wanted to be Butch because I virtually talked about very little else all year long,” Wurtz says. “When I got the call, he was actually in the room with me, and I had to pretend like I didn’t get the job. Keeping it from him became almost impossible because he ended up being the drum major in the marching band. He would see me at away games on the field and in the back room just absolutely sweaty. He was also an engineer and a genius, so it didn’t take him long to figure it out.”
Wurtz, now a political consultant in Seattle and part of an experimental coronavirus vaccine trial at Kaiser Permanente Washington Research Institute, remembers washing the Butch suit in Stimson Hall. “I would have to physically sit on top of the washer and dryer in case I fell asleep and someone came in so they wouldn’t pop one open and see Butch inside.”
As Butch, he says, “You get really good at body language. With kids, one of my biggest strategies was to get down as low as you can to make them feel bigger.” With unruly fans, he aimed to “draw attention to them. They think they want attention, but when they cross the line, they usually get the kind of negative attention they deserve.”
He’s proud of the legacy he left. “I’m a little shorter and stockier” than most of the students who played Butch, he says. “I definitely embraced the role of ‘Fat Butch.’ My persona was very much like a Chris Farley, over-the-top, bigger guy situation.”
That’s how, he says, Butch-ups came about. “Right now, after a touchdown, Butch goes up into the crowd and gets put up in the air 14 times. They’re called Butch-ups. I did not make up the name. But I can definitely speak to the origin of it. It was Seattle in 2005. We used to play a game in Seattle very year. Whoever we were playing, we were just thumping this team. Butch, at that time, did a push-up for every point—7, then 14, then 21, and so on. I was up to 45, and I barely made it. Right as I get off the field, we block their kick and get another touchdown, and I have to go another 52. I was exhausted. Then it happened it again. I did not have the physical ability to do another 60 more push-ups. But I’ve got to do it. I pointed up to the students who were yelling the loudest, and I just jump up there, and they pushed me up 60 times. After six or seven, I was like, ‘Yep, Butch is going to be doing this from now on.’ It was born out of complete necessity.”
“I was my high-school mascot. I went to Central Kitsap High School, and the mascot was a cougar. I became obsessed with being a mascot and dressing up and having fun and goofing off,” says Josh Diamond (’11 Music), who served as the mascot during his sophomore, junior, and seniors years at CKHS. “I was a Cougar, and I wanted to be a Cougar again.”
He was, in fact, so enamored with the idea of being Butch that he tried to try out for the role before the start of his freshman year. “But they wouldn’t let me,” he says. “They don’t let incoming freshmen be Butch. You have to try out in spring. I actually like that. Butch is based on tradition. It’s good to hold onto those traditions.”
Still, he says, “In fall of freshman year, I started emailing the cheer coach like once a month. It was ridiculous. I was checking in. ‘Hey, it’s Josh again. Just want to double-check: Do you have a tryout date yet?’ I was absorbed by WSU and Cougar life, and what better way to show that than to be Butch? I want to say I finally tried out that February or March.”
Diamond was Butch from 2008 to 2011. After he graduated, he came back to campus to coach and help out with tryouts for a couple of years. He would tell would-be Butches, “You have to stay healthy. When you’re doing a football game, that’s four hours. It’s so much fun, but it’s so draining. Staying hydrated is huge.”
Another thing he would say: “It doesn’t matter who you’re waving to, wave like they’re 100 yards away. Don’t wave with your hand. Wave with your entire body. You’re trying to portray a character that’s larger than life.”
And there’s just something magical about it. “As soon as you put that head on, Butch takes over. You’re in the zone. You’re pumped up, ready to go, and the crowd helps you. I always fed off the crowd. And the crowd will feed off of your energy as well,” Diamond says. “It gives me chills right now thinking about it. There’s a very, very small select group of people who know what it’s like to ride out on the quad and have the entire stadium erupt and cheer and yell , ‘Go Cougs!’ The first time you point at the audience, and they say, ‘Go!’ you realize the power Butch has in his finger.”
Sometimes that power gets away from you. “One time—I’m pretty sure it was my senior year, fall of 2010, against the Oregon Ducks—I came out of the tunnel on the quad going way too fast. I had a giant duck-hunt ‘gun’ prop in my hand, and when I went to turn the quad went up on two wheels and I thought, ‘I’m going to crash. I’m going to roll this thing and seriously hurt myself.’ It felt like a minute, but it was probably a few seconds. I jumped off that quad right at that moment. The crowd just went crazy, like I meant to do that trick.”
After college, Diamond moved to Orlando to work at Walt Disney World, appearing in shows and parades as a character performer. He moved back to the Kitsap Peninsula in 2013 and recently started substitute teaching with the dream of becoming a teacher. He also works as an assistant director with Central Stage Community Theatre.
“There’s only one Butch, just like there’s only one Mickey Mouse and one Santa Claus,” Diamond says. “I don’t think you ever become Butch; Butch becomes you. He takes over. It’s hard to explain to someone who hasn’t been in the suit before. But Butch is his own personality. It’s not, ‘How crazy can I be?’ It’s ‘What would Butch do in this situation?’ When it comes down to it, you’re bringing the character to life. But you can’t take too much liberty because you have to have consistency over the years. You’re carrying on a tradition.”
Freshman year, he was a tuba player in the marching band. That’s how he first encountered Butch and decided he wanted to be him—or at least try. “I was lucky enough to be picked,” says Bryan Clark (’14 Comp. Eng.). “If I hadn’t, I would’ve stayed in marching band because I really enjoyed the marching band experience.”
Clark, now a computer engineer in Vancouver, was Butch from 2010 to 2014, through his final year at WSU as a fifth-year senior. In high school, “I was just a normal band kid,” he says. “I’ve always been a bit of an extrovert—doing goofy things, making people laugh. I don’t really have a problem putting myself out there, if I need to.”
You need to, to be Butch. And the costume helps. “When you put on the mask, you have an extra layer,” Clark says. “You feel insulated—like you are Butch. It’s really interesting. There are people you meet outside the suit, and they are introverts.”
But, when you’re in costume, you’re always “on,” he says. “Even if you’re walking down the hall by yourself, you have to be ready.”
To get ready, he listened to music. “For me, a lot of what I did was play pump-up style music. Kanye and Jay Z’s album Watch the Throne was very big. I’d usually sit in the suit for at least a minute or two and just take a couple of deep breaths and think, ‘I’m Butch now.’ I’d adjust my stance and take a minute to transition from me to Butch. Once I opened the door, it was Butch until I came back through that door.”
As far as character development, Clark says, “It’s a lot of pacing back and forth in front of a mirror in a room by yourself. Half of our job is kind of improv, how guys interact with the environment around them, or how could we use that as a prop? It’s a lot of character recognition—watching the videos of other Butches, studying their mannerisms. It doesn’t matter who’s in the suit. Our mannerisms are the same. We work hard to learn each other’s ticks. You’re trying to make Butch look great. So you get a little nervous because you don’t want to let the character down, not yourself.”
Clark estimates maybe 20 percent of Butch’s moves—clap, point, bob, heel, walk, run, skip—are choreographed. “Once you get those core moves down, they become second nature and you don’t worry too much about them, and it all turns to improv,” he says.
Exaggeration is key becoming the character. “Your shoulders will burn from how much you’ve been flapping your arms,” says Clark, who helps train new Butches. Performing as Butch is “a really decent cardio workout.”
A big focus for Clark was getting Butch to use more props, signs, and costume add-ons such as a T-shirt with Butch’s own Greek letters on it to wear to Greek events. Clark even made a homecoming king outfit his senior year “with a giant crown and a sash.” And, he says, “They’ve done some really cool stuff ever since. One dressed as Marty McFly, and they actually brought him out in a Delorean. That was for one of the Halloween games in 2016 or 2017.”
One of his props nearly got him in trouble. “I almost got kicked out of a game at Oregon because I snuck in bread,” he says. “I was throwing it to the Ducks, and the crowd management guy did not like it at all. I was feeding the Ducks. He said, ‘If you do it again, you’re going to get kicked out.’ So I stopped. But it was worth it.”
Another memorable experience was the 2012 Apple Cup. The Cougs made a comeback, winning 31-28 in overtime. “After the game, I crowd-surfed across the entire crowd. It was a lot of fun,” says Clark, who also got to travel to New York City for a basketball tournament. “Getting to dribble and make a basket at Madison Square Garden—it was just super surreal to get to experience that.”
As Butch, Clark says, “I got really good at shooting a basketball over my head without looking. I tried it 11 times and I think I made eight of them from half-court.”
Post-game, it was sometimes difficult to remember he wasn’t Butch. “You get so used to everybody high-fiving you that it actually became kind of a problem,” Clark says. “I’d get out of the suit, and I’d be walking back to my apartment or dorm, and I’d reflexively raise my hand to high-five someone that I didn’t know.”
In addition to games, Clark estimates Butch attends more than 100 non-athletic events—from parades and galas to appearances at elementary schools—even on boats. Weddings were a favorite. “I’ve gone all over Washington state for weddings and as far away as Montana,” Clark says. “You show up, and you’re kind of crashing and kind of not. You get to dance, and interact with people, and it’s a lot of fun.”
Being Butch makes for a busy schedule. “It was hard to balance that and a job,” says Clark, noting, “There’s a big misconception that Butch has a full scholarship. When I was Butch, I believe it was a $500-a-semester book scholarship. That’s something the alumni are working on.”
“Butch is a secret. You don’t become Butch for the notoriety or the fame,” says Michael “Max” Baer (‘15 Econ.), who spent four and a half years tracking down former Butches for the mascot’s 40th anniversary. The first-time event took place October 20, 2018, during ESPN College GameDay at WSU Pullman.
Baer started researching Butch while he still was Butch, completing his senior capstone project on the economics of WSU’s mascot. Butch appearances cost a base hourly rate, plus mileage or airfare and other travel expenses such as taxi or rideshare fees. “You can rent Butch for almost anything,” Baer says. “You name it, I’ve done it. Retirement parties, birthday parties, hospital visits, TV commercials, grand openings. I’ve gone across the country to be Butch for an hour—for a wedding in New Jersey.”
After graduation, Baer made it his goal to find all of the former Butches he could. “It was a monstrous task with many dead-ends and even some imposters that had to be weeded out,” he says. “I started the project hoping it would lead to a stronger alumni group. When I became Butch, there was a private Facebook group I was inducted into. It’s all the WSU Butch mascots. There were maybe 15 people in it. That’s 15 people over a 40-year history. We were missing most of our family tree. Athletics never kept a list of the students inside the suit. The alumni association had no idea. We were so secret we didn’t even know each other!”
But, he thought, “Who’s going to be more excited to support the current Butch than people who were Butch?”
Baer found fellow Butches through social media and word of mouth, asking former band members, cheerleaders, and football and basketball players, and consulting old Chinook yearbooks. “I had years I needed to cover,” says Baer, who worked on the project nights and weekends, and kept a detailed, color-coded spreadsheet of his efforts. “In crime movies, they have pictures of people on the walls with red string. I didn’t quite have that, but it was close. I went through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, anything I could find. When I found someone, I’d introduce them to the Facebook group. I often saw old friends reunited in our comment sections. It was a lot of asking around, ‘Hey, who do you know?’ Everybody knows someone, and someone knows Butch. I found the missing link almost exactly one month before the reunion. It was a hobby—a passion—that kind of became an obsession.”
Baer was as obsessed with tracking former Butches as he had been about being Butch. “The majority of my training was learning how to walk like Butch,” he says. “I would sometimes practice walking for hours a day. When you’re becoming Butch, you spend almost every waking moment with the person who’s training you. You learn what to do when the team scores or there’s an interception or you see a Husky. All of these little mannerisms come together to create the whole Butch T. Cougar character that everybody sees. We go over it in painstaking detail and put a lot of work into making sure it’s correct.”
Typically, Butch “is fairly tall,” around 6 feet. “Some people have been a little bit taller, and some people have been a little bit shorter,” says Baer, who stands 6 feet, 2 inches tall and portrayed Butch from 2012 to 2015. “Butch is a total athlete,” Baer says. “It’s a tough job physically. You’ve got to be animated for hours in a hot suit so endurance is the name of the game. Butch is always larger than life, boisterous, mischievous. He entertains tens of thousands of people.”
Connecting with fans and fellow students was one of his favorite parts about being Butch. “You end up befriending people who go to every single game, and you come up with secret handshakes with them—and then you see them in class and they have no idea who you are. It’s a strange feeling,” says Baer, who spoke at WSU’s fall 2015 commencement.
“Kids become best friends with Butch,” he says, remembering one boy who had broken his leg “and stopped all the kids at school from signing his cast so Butch could be the first one.”
It is, says Baer, “a whirlwind of emotions. It’s a very unique feeling. When you put on the head, you’re not Max anymore. You’re not even someone else. You’re something else. You’re bigger than that. You’re a tangible part of WSU Athletics. It’s absolutely freeing to put the head on. It doesn’t matter what happened to you during the day—you failed a test, missed a lab—you put on the suit, and that all fades away.”
Now, Baer lives in Bellevue, works as a financial consultant for Charles Schwab, and is working toward starting a designated scholarship fund for students who perform as Butch.
Meantime, he cherishes the memory—and photo—of Butch’s 40th birthday party. “Seeing the joy on all our faces as we walked onto the field once again as performers, transforming back into our furry alter ego, made it all worth it,” he says. “This picture. The crowd’s reaction. A chance to lead ‘Go Cougs’ one last time. It all made four and a half years of hard work completely worth it. And I would do it again in a heartbeat.”
“I tried to make Butch big,” says Dawson Dormaier (’20 Advert.), the most recently unveiled Butch. “Butch is big. I tried to make him bigger. I tried to make Butch seem really cool, but also really funny and really silly and really goofy at the same time. One move I’d do is if, for example, Butch hit a pole, I’d make a big scene and fall over so everyone was staring at Butch.”
Another of his signature moves: imitating people. “Butch loves to imitate people,” says Dormaier, who played Butch from 2017 until spring 2020. “That’s a really funny joke Butch does, mimicking people, trying to get them to break into a smile. Some people are hard to crack and you can’t get them, but you can at least try.”
Dormaier was hooked on being Butch after first seeing the mascot his freshman year. “So, I saw Butch rolling down a grass hill at a soccer game, and I thought, ‘I can do that.’ Then, I saw him riding on a scooter, like a motorcycle with three wheels, and I wanted to do it because of that. It seemed fun. I thought the character fit my personality.”
Dormaier grew up in Coulee City, where his parents are cattle ranchers and wheat and hay farmers. He played basketball and baseball and was involved with theater in high school. Those things helped prepare him to be Butch. “You have to be athletic and kind of creative,” he says. “Drama or theater really helps.”
To prepare for an appearance or game, “I have this poem I’d read,” he says. “I’d try to read it before every event. It’s like a little mantra, I guess.”
It is The Clown’s Prayer, and part of it goes like this:
As I stumble through this life,
help me to create more laughter than tears,
dispense more happiness than gloom,
spread more cheer than despair.
Never let me become so indifferent,
that I will fail to see the wonders in the eyes of a child,
or the twinkle in the eyes of the aged.
Never let me forget that my total effort is to cheer people,
make them happy, and forget momentarily,
all the unpleasantness in their lives.
Dormaier didn’t really suffer from stage fright. But, he says, “I worried about the head flying off.”
To get pumped up, he’d play music—hip-hop, rap, electronic dance music—and jump and dance around. “Sometimes, I’d take an energy drink,” he says. “That suit is very heavy. You sweat a lot. Your shoulders and your neck are sore after a typical event, to say the least.”
Keeping the secret “was super stressful at times,” he says. “Some people found out. Actually, quite a few of my friends found out. I tried to keep the lie going that I wasn’t Butch. I told them I was doing other stuff on the sidelines and behind the scenes. Most of my friends were really cool about it. I found out I have a hard time keeping secrets. It was a burden. It’s weird. But it’s also really fun. It’s so much fun you don’t want to lose the role. You do the same events over and over, and some of the same people show up over and over, so you have this weird but cool relationship with them.”
One of his favorite parts about being Butch was making kids happy. “Sometimes, you’d give a high-five to a kid, and the way they would smile back at you was just very cool,” he says. “I have a lot of those little moments. I love those moments. They make you remember why you’re doing it.”
Read more about Butch in “Cougar Confidential”