The first one to skate in Agganis Arena before a hockey game, he strides in with an exuberant confidence and energy that radiates to the cheering fans in the stands. As the game begins, 6-foot-3 Rhett the Terrier weaves through the crowd, inspiring the loyal audience to showcase their spirit.
“Rhett’s job is to encourage the crowd to be more vocal and to get the fans to be more interactive,” said Mike Marfione, marketing and promotions coordinator of BU Athletics. “If there’s a fan that is not actively participating in the game, Rhett finds a fun way to have the person be more engaged, making sure the crowd is interactive helps the team.”
As the face of Boston University, Rhett officially became the terrier mascot on Nov. 15, 1922. His name originates from Rhett Butler, one of the protagonists in the novel Gone With the Wind, because nobody loves Scarlet more than Rhett.
Picking a new Rhett is more serious business than one would think. Rhett is a national icon who’s appeared on ESPN, CNN, CBS and NESN. The next batch of Rhetts could represent the school on the national stage.
At the start of a new school year, Marfione and his team try to market the idea of becoming a potential part of the Rhett system. They post fliers on dormitory bulletin boards to promote their tryouts as well as use social media to connect with students. Tryouts begin at the end of September of the school year.
“They definitely need to be outgoing and athletic. They also have to be energetic,” Marfione said. “Rhett has a bubbly personality so naturally it also helps if people have a lot of school spirit.”
First, potential Rhett candidates sign up for an interview about their basic information. Then, they are required to perform a short skit with props and music to gage their creativity. They are also tested on game-day situations that would require them to make hasty decisions and how well they interact with the cheer team. Meanwhile, they will be evaluated on how energetic and creative they can be.
“We’re looking for people to have the ability to think on their feet. We can try training them as best as we can but different things are going to come up,” Marfione said. “They have to be spontaneous.”
Eight students currently wear the muzzle, so to speak. Their hours as Rhett fluctuate according to schedule but generally amount to at least five hours a week at hockey, basketball, soccer and lacrosse games. Rhetts can also be found at school affairs on and off campus like charities and BU promotions. Rhett attends the National Cheerleading Championships and Mascot Championships as well. In 2002, he placed fourth in the National Mascot Championship.
“Having people who are into the event gets me into character,” said one of the students who plays Rhett. All Rhetts have to remain anonymous in their terms as mascots. “I try to do as much as I can to encourage the crowd. I do a lot of exaggerated motions while I am in costume. You just need to put yourself out there.”
To entertain the crowd and encourage them to be supportive of the teams, Rhett takes on an enthusiastic personality. If there is a fan who seems to be lacking in school spirit, Rhett will do something like tap that person on the shoulder and interact with the fan by doing silly dance moves or jumping around to motivate the fan to laugh.
“Rhett symbolizes school spirit,” Marfione said. “He supports the university and the sports teams. Rhett has a larger-than-life personality. When people look at Rhett, they automatically think of him as the face of BU.”
Q&A with Rhett: ‘The Secret Life of an American Dog’
To keep the identity of Rhett anonymous, the student must remain anonymous.
The Daily Free Press: What was your favorite memory as Rhett?
Rhett: Back in December, there was an event with the BU Athletics committee. We visited public elementary schools in Boston and got to interact with the children while in costume.
DFP: What antics do you use to encourage people to have more school spirit?
Rhett: I tend to jump around and do some silly dance moves. Sometimes, I’ll be goofy while tapping people on the shoulder and surprise them. When I am in costume, I tend to do whatever silly thing I am able to.
DFP: How do you balance academic life and being a mascot?
Rhett: As with any extracurricular activity, I learned to manage my time but it isn’t really hard to balance this job since it’s only about five hours a week.
DFP: What gets you into the Rhett character?
Rhett: It helps when at sporting events or hockey games, everyone is cheering and getting pumped up. The crowd being there helps Rhett to be there.
DFP: Do you have any advice for people who want to be a part of the Rhett team?
Rhett: Do everything big and with energy. The costume itself is bulky so you need to make exaggerated movements just to move the costume. If you need Rhett to nod, you literally need to rock your head back and forth. It requires practice. Also, be enthusiastic.