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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Wilbur: Unmasked

    Wilbur%3A+Unmasked
    Rebecca Marie Sasnett

    He was there for it all.

    He was there for the celebrations. He rejoiced when the unranked Wildcats’ football team beat No. 5 Oregon 42-16 in front of a frenzied and rain-soaked crowd at Arizona Stadium last November. He was hoisted on students’ backs around McKale Center as the men’s basketball team brought home the Pac-12 conference regular season title.

    He was also there for the heartache. He watched as the Wildcats’ football team lost to rival ASU 21-58. He felt the air being sucked in by fans as Arizona went into overtime when Wisconsin beat the Wildcats in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.

    And yet through it all he remained anonymous. Like a blade of grass on the field he so often strutted upon, he was just another fan on the sidelines.

    Robbie Dema, a theater arts junior, has called the inside of a rather hairy and furry costume home for the last two years. Better known as Wilbur, Dema has been the face of the university and community.

    “The face is known, but it’s not mine,” Dema said.

    After trying out to be Wilbur, the lovable and spunky mascot for Arizona, Dema was sworn to secrecy. Of course, that didn’t work out. Dema told his fraternity brothers and several close friends, not to mention his family back home, while asking them to keep the anonymity sacred.

    That run came to an end in March during halftime in a men’s basketball game in McKale Center. There, Dema was unveiled to the chorus of thousands of screaming fans, the same fans who had so often touched his costume or sung with him in celebration. Dema, in the guise of Wilbur, had formed an unspeakable bond with the students.

    There were some downsides to the costume, as might be expected. Being a mascot in Arizona isn’t the most pleasurable job in the world. Dema recounted the hot August nights as football games raged on behind him and he was on the sidelines drinking fluids to stave off dehydration, no different from the players just a few feet away, his costume just as cumbersome in the warm night air as the uniforms of the sweat-soaked football players chugging Gatorade beside him.

    The day before the 2013 football home opener, Dema almost passed out while in the Wilbur costume during the Bear Down Friday pre-game celebration. After a visit to Campus Health Service for dehydration and some downtime, Dema was back out there for the first game that Saturday, pumping through one-armed pushups and crowd surfing.

    “Yes, people have tried to steal my hat, grab my tail. I’ve gotten hit between the legs a few times. But I’m so amped up, it didn’t matter,” Dema said.

    To Dema, the wonderful memories he’s made outweigh the bad. His favorite experience as Wilbur was traveling with the men’s basketball team during the postseason in March this year, and being able to witness firsthand the team’s remarkable journey.

    Another fond memory of Dema’s was during Family Weekend in October, as the Wildcats beat Utah 35-24 at Arizona Stadium. After breaking off a long touchdown run, Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey ran into the arms of Wilbur, who was waiting just behind the end zone. Dema now has the image as his profile picture on Facebook, commemorating one of the most special moments of his time in the suit.

    Dema counts his time in the Wilbur suit as one of the most incredible experiences of his life, and for good reason. For UA students and alumni, Wilbur is a fixture of nearly every moment in every memory they have while donning the red, white and blue “A.” UA fans hug Wilbur with abandon, dance with him more than with their dates, sing with him in a crowd when they wouldn’t even sing in the safety of their own shower. Wilbur has a way of bringing out the best in every UA student, past and present, and Dema made sure that legacy continued on while he wore the suit.

    “Plus, who wants to stare at a Sun Devil when you can look at a cute Wildcat?” Dema said.

    @DanielBurkart

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