Brady Nolan of Reader was one of four finalists that competed at West Virginia University's basketball game Saturday with hopes of being the next Mountaineer.
Four finalists vie to replace two-year mascot Jonathan Kimble at Saturday's men's basketball game against TCU at the WVU Coliseum. Each finalist interacted with the crowd and worked to impress the selection committee stationed throughout the arena.
The finalists are: Nolan, sophomore athletic coaching education major from Reader; Michael Garcia, junior political science major from Fairmont; Platt, a first-year graduate student in athletic coaching education from Wheeling; and Summer Ratcliff, a senior political science and legal studies major from Bunker Hill.
The four were selected from a field of reviewed applicants based off of interviews conducted by a committee of faculty, staff, and students. The winner will be announced during the second half of the WVU men's basketball game vs. Kansas on March 8. He or she will first represent the Mountaineers for the first time during the Gold-Blue spring football game on April 12.
The Mountaineer is much more than just the mascot at sporting events, attending about 250 non-athletic events each year, including tours to elementary school children or speaking to prospective students and their parents at recruitment fairs.
Nolan knew from the first time he walked onto the field at Milan Puskar Stadium as a member of The Pride of West Virginia, the Mountaineer Marching Band, that he wanted to become the Mountaineer.
"We came out to a packed house, and when we ran out of the tunnel, the 60,000 fans erupted," he recalled. "It was a feeling that you can't experience if you're not on the field. I still get that same feeling every time I'm on the field or in the coliseum.
"WVU brings the whole state together. On game day, everybody has something in common in that they're there for the same reason to support their university and, really, their state. The pride that West Virginians have is like no other."
Along with his two years of experience in the marching band, he is also a member of the Mountaineer Maniacs. He is from a family with a rich Mountaineer tradition. His parents and older sister earned degrees from the university. Nolan, who also loves to fish for trout in the state's streams, said choosing WVU was one of the easiest decisions he's ever made, and he's ready to make a name for himself as the next Mountaineer.
"The mascot represents even more than the university. It represents the state, the culture, the lifestyle, and the history," he said. "I remember meeting the Mountaineer Mascot at one of my first games when I was five years old. I've been hooked ever since."
Platt's first memories as a Mountaineer fan are of himself 15 years ago on the lap of his Nana the biggest WVU fan he's ever been around in front of the TV. Decked out in gold and blue and a coonskin cap, he'd watch football games with her every Saturday growing up.
"I remember watching the Mountaineer lead the team onto the field and was absolutely entranced at him. To me, there was no other mascot that stood out like that. He was the leader of the football team and the university. He was a hero," Platt said.
He would love to be that hero to children around the state, as well. He has a slew of leadership experience as a coach. He's a USA certified hockey coach and coaches a team in Morgantown. In addition, he also coaches baseball and lacrosse in the area. Platt, who played baseball at the University of Charleston and graduated with an undergraduate degree from West Liberty University, then came to WVU for his master's degree where he always wanted to be.
"When you're a kid, the Mountaineer is not just a symbol, it's not someone just dressed up. It's WVU. It means everything," said Platt, a first-generation WVU student from his family. "To get a chance to interact and talk with kids about who we are as a state and university would be an amazing thing to be a part of."
Ratcliff, who is a Gold and Blue Ambassador, a member of the Mountaineer Maniacs, and city editor of the campus newspaper The Daily Athenaeum, is looking to be just the third female mascot in WVU's history a challenge she's ready for.
"What better time to put someone unique and completely different in there than now? I can only imagine how hard it's going to be the Mountaineer no matter what you look like," she said. "We don't all look alike or act alike, but we are all Mountaineers we all have that common bond that unites us."
Ratcliff is a non-traditional student. She's 26 years old and didn't come to WVU right out of high school. Instead, she took classes at a private school in St. Louis before becoming a nanny for five years. Her return to the state and experience at WVU has been life changing. She's also a first-generation college student.
"I have always felt at home here. I always felt like this was the place I needed to be," she said. "I came here to get a degree, and I've gotten so much more from it. It really has made me a stronger person and has taught me that anyone can do something positive for the world. I think I knew that I could do something to change the world before I came here, but WVU actually allowed me to understand that I have the ability to do that. That, to me, is completely priceless."
Garcia has the most experience out of the Mountaineer finalists, as he was a finalist a year ago when Kimble earned a second term. Garcia said that could take some of the mystery out of Saturday's cheer off for him.
He is a member of the Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity, the Alpha Kappa Psi professional business fraternity and participates in the Young Life College. He also interned for former Mountaineer Mascot Natalie Tennant in the West Virginia Secretary of State's Office last summer.
"I've always thought about WVU as my second home, and although I've tried to get involved with it in a lot of different ways, I feel like the Mountaineer is a step up," he said. "It's truly a representation of the people and the students here."
His mother received a master's degree from WVU, and his older brother and sister also went to the university, so his family is rich in Mountaineer pride. Growing up, Garcia can remember sitting in front of the TV on Saturday afternoons with a pepperoni roll in his hand cheering on the Mountaineers.
"Part of my inspiration to do this was seeing Jonathan grab that rifle after he was announced the winner two years ago, and I thought it was really cool for somebody to get that excited about being the Mountaineer," he said. "I never imagined I could have the opportunity, but it's almost a reality now."
"I'd love to go to the elementary schools. My mom is an elementary school teacher, and you don't know how excited she would be for me to come to her class," Garcia said. "Mentorship is one of the key things that helps us grow as individuals, and this is a way I could be a mentor to West Virginia youth."
Garcia's fellow Mountaineer finalists all agreed that speaking to and mentoring children across West Virginia are what they're most excited for if they'd become the new mascot.