Wally returns to The Bluff

By The Beacon | September 2, 2009 9:00pm

By Lisa McMahan

New mascot Wally Pilot returns to the UP sidelines with a new look, but don't be fooled by his fantastic physique. The beloved riverboat captain was conceived 60 years ago and the numerous re-inventions reflect the university's struggle to keep up with the times.

The Beacon sports staff created a contest at mascot-less UP in March of 1948 with hopes of discovering a "suitable symbol to represent the University of Portland athletic teams and the school in general."

Two months later, the staff announced its competition culminated in a tie. Sophomore H.J. Frison suggested the construction of a boat around a war surplus Jeep. Another student, junior Nolan Drurey, came up with the slightly more practical concept of a riverboat pilot.

Drurey's original sketch depicts a dwarflike character with an overcoat hanging down to his oversized shoes and a pipe wedged in the corner of his mouth. His shirt is adorned with nautical stripes and he clutches a spyglass in his hands.

Both Frison and Drurey were awarded five large cartons of Chesterfield cigarettes, but it seems Drurey's vision was deemed more feasible (and less likely to tear apart UP's fields and courts). His concept appeared in subsequent editions of both the Pilot Student Guide and The Log, both of which introduced him as "SPU" or "Spirit of Portland University."

Sometimes referred to as "Captain SPU" or, more formally, "Mr. SPU," Wally came to exist under his current moniker in the early 1970s.

Portland Magazine editor Brian Doyle reported in a 1998 issue that Wally's nickname probably originated in reference to the late Rev. Paul Waldschmidt, C.S.C., who served as President at UP from 1962 to 1978. Waldschmidt acknowledged the probable association of names in his Feb. 10, 1978 memo officially proclaiming the following week "Wally Pilot Week."

The idea became a reality thanks to the funding of a former fraternity, Upsilon Omega Pi, which constructed and regularly paraded the signature outfit: a raincoat, boots and a cumbersome head made of paper maché. Despite the discomfort experienced by the men behind the mask, the riverboat pilot appeared at pep events and danced his way into - and out of - the hearts of many UP students and fans.

In a 1992 Beacon article, former sports editor Peter Julian called Wally an atrocity and wrote, "I've seen my grandpa come home drunk and beat up, and still look better than Wally."

His frightening face disappeared from athletic events when Upsilon Omega Pi voluntarily withdrew university recognition. According to a Feb. 4, 1993 issue of The Beacon, because the fraternity no longer possessed university recognition, its mascot was no longer permitted to appear at any University-affiliated events.

The following fall, Wally debuted after another makeover. His new look was a result of much compromise between University Public Relations and the students themselves, who argued that because the original mascot was designed by a student to represent the entire community, the new and improved Wally should be approached accordingly.

The new version, designed by student Terry Morrin and sponsored by the University, modeled a menacing brow juxtaposed with a blindingly white smile. His look was complete with the addition of white gloves, a dark overcoat, and a captain's hat.

Ten years later, Wally the riverboat Pilot sailed away once again. According to Tricia Miller, Athletics Marketing director, he made his last appearance during the 2003-2004 basketball season. His departure was a result of "complete apathy for him," and, the following season, no one seemed to notice he was gone, Miller wrote in an e-mail.

A few years later, that attitude reversed and the movement to reinstate a mascot began. The class of 2009, in conjunction with the Athletic Department, made it their goal to bring a mascot back to The Bluff. They held a focus group with last year's seniors, headed up by former ASUP President Kyle Bunch and raised over $7,000, which covered a good portion of the cost, said Athletics Group Sales and Promotions Manager Beth Connell.

After a period of cooperation involving both student input and mascot producer Alinco Costumes, Wally's most recent version made his official debut at last Friday's women's soccer game versus UC Berkeley. Wally, however, was out and about in a variety of venues this summer, including fairs, festivals, and the 100th anniversary of Tillamook Cheese. His attendance at events on-and-off of campus is part of the Athletic Department's quest to create awareness.

Wally's increasing celebrity status is also enhanced by his very own website, facebook page and postcard series. Connell says he will be attending important away games and hopes that Wally "makes an appearance at as many sports as he can," including soccer, volleyball, basketball, and tennis.

His image represents who the Pilots are, according to Connell. Junior Drew Hegarty explained, "Every big school has a mascot and Wally gives an identity to the University."

Wally's appearance is similar to that of the last mascot, with a few minor alterations. "We didn't necessarily know if we wanted to go with a human again," Connell said, but the current Wally technically is a more recent adaptation of a riverboat pilot.

University Archivist the Rev. Robert Antonelli, C.S.C., who helped compile and organize Wally's extensive history, believes that Wally's fluctuating appearance and presence "shows the University's willingness to keep abreast of its student preferences." Indeed, Wally's cut off T-shirt and exaggerated strut appear vastly different from the characteristics of his predecessors. "The University remains the same, but public image of it has to change to reflect current population," Antonelli said.

Sixty years after the Spirit of Portland University first appeared, the University's vision for its mascot remains the same, "Overall we hope for a really positive camaraderie and school spirit, and we want to capture that school spirit," Connell said.