Unmasking the Wildcat: Ross Boggess’s ‘rewarding’ experience

Graduating senior cheerleader and Wildcat mascot Ross Boggess poses for a photo in Memorial Coliseum on UK’s campus in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Jordan Prather | Staff

Bailey Vandiver

The Wildcat walked off the field at the football stadium, the surrounding stands empty. 

Inside the suit was Ross Boggess, and he was about to take it off for the last time.

It wasn’t a football game that had just ended but the College of Agriculture Field Day— which was “a cool reconnect” for Boggess. He had been the Wildcat for all four years of his college career, and he worked that same event as the Wildcat as a freshman. 

Plus, as a community leadership and development major, he is a College of Ag student.

It was neat, he said, but it was also bittersweet. Boggess was just weeks away from graduating, making it his last ever event as the Wildcat.

“That was a sad moment,” he said. 

‘You’re just a naked cat running around’

In the winter of 2015, Grant Boggess saw a flyer for mascot tryouts in the engineering quad. He sent a picture to his brother Ross, who was a senior in high school. 

“I think he kind of sent it to me as a joke,” Boggess said. “I was like, ‘Heck yeah, I’m going to do it.’” 

Boggess said it’s pretty rare for someone to try out as a high school senior because few people know about the opportunity. 

After an informational meeting, the first step for prospective Wildcats and Scratches was a face-to-face interview. The interviewee sat on a Gatorade cooler, Boggess said— evidence of the casual nature of the process. 

That didn’t stop the interviewers from “drilling” him with questions, though, about his work ethic and more about him. At that point, the cheer team was more concerned with making sure Boggess was a quality person, not yet if he could be a good mascot.

“Kentucky cheer is super, super good at picking quality people,” Boggess said. “T. Lynn Williamson (cheer adviser) is amazing at finding who the right person is, and I’m so thankful that he picked me.” 

Looking back at the second part of the interview, when the candidates “suit up,” Boggess joked that he’s not sure why they did.

He said he was awkward— and that there was something a little humiliating about the experience. 

“They don’t give the mascot any clothes to wear,” he said. “You’re just a naked cat running around the gymnastics room in the Seaton Center.” 

The next day, Boggess performed a prepared skit, based on the movie Frozen, which had just come out. 

Both Wildcat and Scratch are performed by several students, and Boggess joined as one of the Wildcats.

All of his fellow mascots that year were older than he was, meaning the last of them graduated last year.

“We were just the crew,” he said. “We loved it so much.”  

‘I’m Ross, one of the Wildcats’

The students behind Albert and Alberta Gator, the mascots at the University of Florida, reveal themselves by wearing the hands and feet of the costume to graduation. 

At Bowling Green State, the mascot is decapitated at the hockey rink, revealing who is in the suit. 

In a somewhat less dramatic fashion, Boggess posted on Facebook a few weeks before he graduated, alluding to his role as the Wildcat. 

Before that, he didn’t “broadcast” it on social media, he said— none of the students who perform as Wildcat or Scratch do. 

“Our close friends know,” Boggess said. “We just… try not to be too boisterous about it.” 

Boggess said he got in a little bit of trouble his freshman or sophomore year for sharing a photo of Wildcat on his personal page. 

“They were like ‘No, Wildcat is Wildcat, it’s not Ross,’” he said. “And so I’ll always introduce myself as ‘I’m Ross, I’m one of the Wildcats.’”

At first, Boggess said he was really excited to be the Wildcat. But then he realized he’s not. Instead, he’s one of several students who perform as the Wildcat. 

“Even though you get to feel like you are so cool when you’re in the suit, you’re just protecting the image for the next person,” he said. “And it’s a cool thing where Wildcat has its own personality that we get to turn Ross into.” 

He said it didn’t come naturally to him, but he learned to separate the celebrity status from his own identity and fulfill his role as a “guardian” of the mascot. 

Another role that Boggess began playing in the second semester of his freshman year was head Wildcat, meaning it is his responsibility to coordinate the mascots to be where they are supposed to be. 

He was the youngest of that year’s “litter”— which isn’t actually a term used to refer to the mascots team, but he said it should be. He said it took him a while to get used to being the youngest but in a position of leadership, but head Wildcat is based on responsibility, not on seniority. 

“The way I see it is you take the burden off of everyone else so you can enjoy being a mascot…” Boggess said. “You just make sure that everybody else is having a fun time because if the mascot’s not having a good time, nobody’s having a good time.” 

Boggess held that position until last summer, when he passed the role down to someone new so they could learn before Boggess graduated. 

As head Wildcat, Boggess received a full-tuition scholarship. Other members of the mascot team have partial scholarships, with the amount depending on seniority and other factors. 

“You have the most scholarship, so you have the most responsibility,” he said.

‘One of the coolest things’

Over his college career, Boggess had put on a little weight— and the male cheerleaders who hold him up in the Wildcat pyramid pointed it out to him.  

“So I made sure to lose some weight for NCAAs,” Boggess joked. “But they literally hold me up and are great people.”

Boggess said Wildcat pyramid is one of his favorite parts of the job and is one of the things he will miss most. 

“It’s one of the coolest things,” he said. “As you’re up in pyramid, everybody else in the audience starts standing up and clapping.”

Once the Wildcat is back on solid ground, it’s straight into the UK fight song.

“(It’s) definitely classically conditioned me to just love our fight song, and it perks me up anytime I hear it now.” 

While the cheerleaders share their enthusiasm by smiling all the time, the mascots use their body language. 

“People ask if we smile in the suit, and you’re like, ‘Sometimes…’” he said. “But in a lot of ways, Wildcatting is a workout. It’s going up and down the stairs or running around the concourse, and you don’t think about like, last time I worked out, was I smiling?” 

The Wildcat has a specific walk: “a strut with a little extra swagger,” Boggess said. 

As for Scratch, his is more “boppy”— almost a skip. 

One of the strategies of the mascots is to be as big as possible. 

“Especially at Rupp, you’re looking at the 200-1evel section people, and if there’s a kid up there, you want them to be able to see your emotions in just as much detail as the person who gets a front row seat,” Boggess said. 

‘Everybody has a story about Wildcat’

Boggess said one of the really cool things about the Lexington and UK community is that everyone has a story about the Wildcat. 

The first Wildcat mascot, Gary Tanner, appeared on UK sidelines in 1976.

For many years, the first male student who didn’t make the cheerleading team became the mascot, Boggess said. The mascots played a part in some of Kentucky cheer’s 24 national championships, because before UCA created a mascot division, the Wildcat would participate in the cheer team’s routines. 

“I can’t imagine the stunts and the tricks that they used to do, because that’s way better than I could do,” he said. 

Boggess said he recently heard from someone who had a picture of her parents with the Wildcat, taken well before digital cameras. 

Now, in the age of smartphones, everyone has a picture with the Wildcat. A tip from Boggess: If the Wildcat in your picture is wearing a white wristband, it was Boggess inside the suit. 

Boggess’s time as the Wildcat has come to an end, and he has a framed Wildcat jersey to remember his time by. He said he will miss the community of UK Athletics, as well as serving the larger community through his role as Wildcat. 

“Wildcat is probably the most time-consuming thing I’ve done,” Boggess said. “But it’s also the most rewarding thing.”