By Aaron O'Connell
Wally Pilot has once again reappeared on The Bluff, undergoing a costume reinvention and new biography to explain his five-year hiatus.
Apparently the University's previous stabs at creating this particular mascot were not indication enough that a rather frightening rendition of a riverboat pilot does not inspire pride or spirit within the University of Portland community. Instead, once again, the cheerleader for Pilot athletics - in fact the quintessential Pilot fan - is Wally.
The last time Wally made an appearance on The Bluff, he was eventually decommissioned because nobody cared anymore. What, after five years, has given reason that students have been pining for the exact same mascot? True, Wally has undergone some changes in his absence, losing clothing, gaining more defined facial features and evidently taking steroids. But will Wally's costume change suddenly cause Pilot supporters to rally behind his banner? Maybe so. The women's soccer home opener recorded the third-highest attendance recorded at Merlo field. But most likely the reason for the attendance was the single-largest freshman class in UP history, and not the re-redesigned mascot.
School mascots are highly effective tools at driving school spirit, but the University seems to have a long-standing problem with the notion of Wally the Riverboat Pilot. The mascot has been lost and forgotten more than once, renamed and recostumed. When the seniors decided to make their senior gift a mascot for the school, why would the students elect to pick another Wally?
There was obvious effort that went in to Wally's comeback. The postcards are quaint, the biography is interesting and the costume is ridiculous.
Wally even attempts to entreat the younger audience of UP athletics. A small sentence directed to the younger UP supporters reads, "Kids, Wally wants YOU to join the UP Kid's Club..."
But what child would not be terrified of that countenance?
The other choices the students had were a purple muppet (the photo on the Web site was actually a green muppet), an English dog called the Schipperke, and some mascot resembling Syracuse's "Orange", except adapted to be UP's "Purple".
Instead, the University's student body elected a Wally Pilot who would not have been out of place as a mascot for the Village People.
Why not the Schipperke? Its name even means "Little Sailor." And if it was a live, trained dog, that would have been even better. You can't pet Wally without looking strange, but you could pet a small sailing dog. Who knows? Maybe it would even do tricks.
And even the rather nebulous idea of the Portland Purple would be an interesting concept to see in action. One can never go wrong with a giant blob of purple for a mascot or even a giant purple muppet.
It was time for the mascot of the University of Portland to change, especially with such an exciting year mounting in Pilot athletics. But instead the community is left for another bout with a different version of the same riverboat captain.
When I see the peregrine falcon of the Air Force Academy flying around the stadium and the Thunderbirds scream overhead I get excited.
When I see a riverboat pilot sporting a maniacal grin, sleeveless T-shirt and Styrofoam fortified arms, I don't really feel like cheering. The mascot seems, if anything, to mock UP.
I don't expect the might of the United States Air Force to appear at our sports events, but it would be nice to have a mascot which didn't detract from the sports environment.
But who knows? Maybe this Wally is the charm.
?Aaron O'Connell is the Sports Editor of The Beacon. He ?can be contacted at ?firstname.lastname@example.org