Universities trade punches over mascots



Lindsay Shoff

They let the cat out of the bag.

St. Joseph’s University returned the Wildcat mascot to Villanova on Monday, two days after it was stolen by a St. Joseph’s student.

According to Athletic Director Vince Nicastro, a St. Joseph’s student followed the Wildcat around during last Saturday’s West Virginia game, asking questions normally posed to the Wildcat, like “Is it hot in there?” and “Can we rent your services for kids’ birthday parties?”

After the game, the student continued to follow the mascot to the room where the mascot is stored. The student returned minutes later to snatch the costume.

Normally, the head of the Wildcat is stored in one bag and the body in another, and they are both sent off to be washed by the athletic department immediately following games. For some reason, however, both the head and the body were stored in the same bag on Saturday afternoon, perhaps making it easier for the student to grab them.

The St. Joseph’s student then took the costume back to the other end of Lancaster Avenue where he and other students hung it and pretended to pummel it, illustrating Villanova’s forthcoming fate.

Sitting at home Sunday night, head cheerleading coach Phil O’Neill, who is in charge of the mascot during games, did not realize the suit was missing until he saw the Wildcat in a noose inside the Hawks’ gym during a report on the 11 o’clock news.

Don DiJulia, St. Joseph’s athletic director, called Nicastro in response to the newscast, describing rumors he heard around St. Joseph’s campus. All three met on Monday morning at Villanova to discuss the matter, and DiJulia claimed he might know who the culprits were. He told the Villanova officals he would try to get it safely back by noon.

Upon discovering who took the costume, St. Joseph’s officials tried to bring it back to Villanova but were surprised to find that they could not, since the student kept the suit in his car, which had been towed for outstanding tickets. As soon as the car was returned, St. Joseph’s Public Safety removed the costume and returned it undamaged to the athletic department by 1 p.m.

Nicastro called the endeavor clever. “The St. Joseph’s students were creative,” he said.

He also praised St. Joseph’s officials for a prompt return of the Wildcat, saying “Their administration handled it superbly.”  

In addition to stealing the mascot, the Hawks also scattered papers throughout campus predicting a Villanova loss Monday night. Allegedly, St. Joseph’s senior Mike Santanasto sneaked onto campus Friday night and distributed fliers warning students to “Transfer now: Only a few days until St. Joseph’s shames ‘Nova.”

The fliers also warned of the “impending loss.”

Some feel these incidents feed the long-standing Villanova-St. Joseph’s feud, which some might call one-sided.

O’Neill commented, “Personally, this is one of my favorite games to watch all year, but I think on the whole, the rivalry generally means more to St. Joseph’s than it does to Villanova.”

VUsports.com reporter Craig Dimitri called it “the most intense one-way rivalry in America,” also writing, “Obviously, the game doesn’t mean as much to [Villanova] as the Hawk students, but the Wildcat students seemed to feed off the tremendous energy on the other side of the building.”

Nicastro noted the relative harmlessness of the theft.

“Sometimes lines get crossed in the collegiate prank business — this probably wasn’t one of them.”

Sophomore Drew Boles agreed with the playful nature of the abduction. “I actually thought it was funny,” he said.

“Anyone up for a little hawk-napping?”

In a possibly related incident, a Wildcat fan attacked the St. Joseph’s mascot during the second half of Monday’s game. The fan was tackled by security officers and St. Joseph’s cheerleaders.

Junior Katie Heineken approved of the fan’s action. “The bird was so annoying. I thought the Wildcat should have gone out and done something,” she said. “It was great when that kid ran out. It was well deserved.”