Mascot Origins: Wolverine


A statue of Willy the Wolverine greets students as they make their way to class.
Mindy Harward/UVU Review

It wouldn’t be difficult to guess why the University of Utah adopted the Ute as its mascot or why Brigham Young University came to have the cougar as theirs; however, the odds go down considerably when guessing why this university’s mascot is the wolverine.

The school seems to have no geographical or cultural connection to the wolverine and the number of campus encounters with the clawed critter over the course of the history of the school hovers near zero, excluding bronze statues and costume-clad students.

The wolverine is one of the largest members of the weasel family, and is roughly as big as a mid-sized dog. Unlike its comic book counterpart, the wolverine cannot retract its claws, which often grow to the size of human fingers.

Despite their small size, wolverines have been known to hold their own against much larger animals including deer, moose and even bears. Considering their vicious nature, it’s hard to believe that wolverine numbers are dwindling. The United States Fish and Wildlife Services estimate that there are only 500 wolverines in the United States, most commonly found in the north.

Searching for the story of why the wolverine was chosen as the mascot is nearly as difficult as finding an actual wolverine on campus. Stumped school officials referred to past employees, who referred to other past employees, many of which were not completely confident, but nonetheless offered important insight.

The need for a school mascot came about in the early years of the school’s athletics program. Multiple sources agree that the student body voted for the wolverine over other animals.

According to Barbra Wardle, the sculptor who made three of the school’s wolverine statues on campus, President Wilson W. Sorenson was exceptionally fond of this choice. Wardle remembers Sorenson comparing the school to a wolverine because of its small size and fearless attitude.

Soon after the mascot was decided, the school purchased a large furry wolverine suit. In the beginning, many members of the faculty and student government dawned the sweaty suit, recalled once Director of Student Programs Ann Richardson.

Today, Willy the Wolverine, named for Wilson Sorenson, can be found promoting school spirit at most of the school’s sporting events and on You- Tube skydiving and wakeboarding.

3 Responses to "Mascot Origins: Wolverine"

  1. Catherine McIntyre   March 31, 2011 at 1:07 pm

    I’m the Archivist here on campus, and I have a little bit more information on Willy the Wolverine as well as a funny photo of one of his earlier incarnations. Let me know if you’re interested!

    Reply
  2. Dave Wise   June 17, 2011 at 11:20 am

    What is the UVU Review? I came across your article as part of the Wolverine story. Do you manage a museum on campus and is it open to the public?….Dave UM JD 1967

    Reply
    • Matt Petersen   June 18, 2011 at 10:59 pm

      Hey, Dave. It’s the university’s independent and student-run publication/newspaper.

      Reply

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