Butch averages over 400 events per year. With that many occasions and a dangerously designed head, injuries are bound to occur.
For this reason, the university made a change.
Debuting last weekend at the National Lentil Festival was a newly designed head and tail for Butch, the icon of WSU sports.
With the main purpose of the redesign being safety, the aesthetics were all but guaranteed to change in order to best protect Butch.
“Last year we had some unfortunate injuries happen to our students who are the Butch performers,” WSU Spirit Coordinator and Head Cheer Coach Chris Opheim said. “From that, it was seen as there was a need to make a change to the suit because the last thing we need is putting on the mascot head to be an injury prone thing.”
The injuries were not caused by falls, but simply from missed high fives and other sorts of contact to the head.
A wire mesh, not much unlike chicken wire, runs inside Butch’s head behind the mouth and right in front of the performer’s eyes.
“Missed high fives were causing lacerations around the (performers) eyes,” Opheim said. “Lacerations, cuts, scrapes, a lot of bruising.”
The first step in the redesign process, which involved Opheim, Marketing and Promotions and Deputy Director of Athletics Mike Marlow, was making the head larger.
“That’s the first thing that you notice, that the head is bigger,” Opheim said. “That was to give the performers more space. People like to mess with mascots. People like to hit them in the head, people like to tackle them. It was giving them more space between the performers face and the actual mask itself.”
The two other biggest safety changes to Butch’s head were a studier material for the shell and an improved range of vision through the mouth.
With nearly nonexistent peripheral vision and the middle of performers’ line of sight all but blocked by Butch’s teeth, it was crucial to expand the performers’ range of sight.
“A lot of it is safety. We have better vision, no more chicken wire going against your face, no more negative air coming back at you,” Opheim said.
In addition to possible injury risks to the performer, a lack of peripheral vision was becoming dangerous to children interacting with Butch.
“Kids don’t know that if they stand off to the side, Butch couldn’t see them,” Opheim said. “So we’ve got little kids standing (in Butch’s peripherals) with Butch looking one direction and as soon as he turns he’s knocked over a kid.”
With the dangers presented through the old head, Opheim was grateful WSU finally had a staff willing to listen on the idea of upgrading the performers’ outfit.
“What we have with this new group of people in athletics with Bill Moos and Mike Marlow and everybody else is we finally had people who were willing to listen when we said, ‘Hey, Butch isn’t really that safe,’” Opheim said.
The process began with Opheim approaching leadership in January and lasted nearly eight months before the final product arrived.
“(The process) was very tough,” Opheim said. “The most iconic face at WSU was being changed. But it was one of things where the most iconic face at WSU was causing injuries.”
While the changes may have been startling, Opheim said that this is not the first time changes have been made to Butch.
“You can go back through the years of Butch and there has been, for the most part, a similar look but there has always been tweaks, and once again we just made some more tweaks,” he said. “It’s caused a reaction, but it has caused a reaction because people care. For good or for bad, the comments people make, it’s good to see that people care about the representation of their university.”