Spencer Low staff writer
Many people around the nation claim to be the No. 1 fan of their favorite sports team, but in Manhattan, there is no question that Willie the Wildcat is K-State’s No. 1 fan. Willie is the physical embodiment of everything people love about K-State: he leads the preposterously loud student section at sporting events, he meets with adoring fans of all ages, travels around the community and appears anywhere K-State spirit is strong.
Dani Ruoff coaches both Willie and K-State’s cheerleaders and oozes with pride for the mascot.
“I’m Mama Wildcat,” said Ruoff.
This mama does not just give rides to soccer practice — Willie has made more than 100 appearances this year and that number does not include sporting events. Last summer, Willie attended about 30 weddings and is present at various events, from K-State recruitment events to baby showers to birthday parties, even a wiener dog race.
A previous Willie commented on how much fun some birthday parties could be.
“It scared the heck out of the kids, they would just go nuts,” he said.
Alumni Willie, who gained the ability to talk upon graduation, could not say enough of how incredible the whole experience was.
“Honestly, looking back, it was a great experience to have in college that not many people get to do,” Alumni Willie said.
I asked our current Willie if it was worth not having the experience of tailgating and sitting in the student section during football season, and was met with an emphatic nod and thumbs up. But Willie still gets a tailgating experience, even if it is not playing washers and grilling burgers.
There are usually about four or five tailgates which request an appearance by Willie, and he is more than happy to oblige. He is escorted around a security detail of sorts, and his two escorts are responsible for getting Willie around the parking lot while he is engulfed by fans in every direction. It is up to these two to make sure Willie arrives places on time, which means that sometimes they have to be the bad guys and pull Willie away from groups of people.
As he leaves, kids often chase after him yelling and screaming for a simple nose rub, one of his signature moves, and he always finds a few seconds to turn around and give them one.
“Willie always knows that he has made someone’s day,” Ruoff said of Willie’s pregame visits around Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
Once he is finished with his tour of the parking lots, Willie heads into the game. Nothing amps up the K-State student section like tackling the opposing “fan” at midfield, and Willie scribbled out that it was his favorite part of game day.
“Nothing like teeing off on someone on the Powercat at midfield,” he scrawled out quickly.
Alumni Willie favored another part of the mascot experience.
“My favorite part was definitely doing the K-S-U after the tackle,” Alumni Willie said.
With 50,000-plus fans cheering Willie on, this pregame ritual is clearly an incredible experience that few get to have and the rest of us get to dream about.
During the game, Willie roams around getting the crowd into the game, and most importantly, he does a pushup for every point the Wildcats have scored to that point after every scoring drive.
According to the Twitter page of “@FakeWillie,” real Willie had completed 1,551 pushups by the end of the Cotton Bowl last season. Games like K-State’s four-overtime win over Texas A&M, with 53 points scored by the Wildcats, definitely take almost an endless supply of stamina.
Not everyone can do this. Many people try out, but in the end, there is only one Willie the Wildcat. But even with one, there is more than enough Willie to go around.
The tryouts to be Willie are held each spring; an informational meeting will be held on April 25 in the Legends room of Bramlage Coliseum.
At the tryout, prospective Willies must navigate an obstacle course, do plenty of pushups and run a giant flag around, among other things, to prove they have what it takes to lead the Wildcat nation.
They also have to learn all of the Willie moves such as leading the K-S-U chant and how to sign Willie’s signature.
Being Willie is not a job. It is not an extracurricular activity. It is not a hobby. Being Willie is a lifestyle.