Photo courtesy of Katherine Sheridan.
By Colleen Lucey
May 4, 2022
Katherine Sheridan covered her sweat-drenched hair with a “2023 Champions” black-and-gold hat, handed to her just moments after the final buzzer, and watched as confetti showered the University of Connecticut’s men’s basketball team on the NRG Stadium court in Houston. Sheridan was able to finally catch her breath after removing the head of the UConn husky mascot she had been wearing for the game.
“Just to be able to say I was in the arena for the championship game just made everything so worth it,” Sheridan said, recalling the moment later.
UConn has two mascots, a husky canine and a husky mascot costume worn by a student. Both are named Jonathan after Connecticut’s first governor, Jonathan Trumbull. The canine mascot tradition started in 1934, however, in the 1960s the school added a human mascot to portray Jonathan after the canine became overwhelmed by large crowds, according to UConn Today.
This year, four students portrayed Jonathan in the mascot costume, including Sheridan. As a senior, Sheridan traveled with the men’s basketball team to Houston for the Final Four.
“Not many people could say they were at a Final Four, and it was cool that I got to be a part of it, not even just as a fan,” Sheridan said.
Sheridan moved to Storrs in August 2019 and struggled to be away from her parents and twin sister, Victoria. Her freshman year was cut short due to the pandemic, but she felt relieved to return to her hometown of Centerport, New York.
Sheridan did remote learning in the fall and was eager to return to campus for the 2021 spring semester. But, two weeks in, her father died of cancer, and she returned home again to be with her mother. Sheridan’s twin, Victoria, who eventually returned to school, was grateful for her strength during that time.
“I cannot thank or repay Katherine enough for the way she stepped up there for our mom and everyone else in our family back at home,” Victoria said.
Sheridan felt isolated throughout the spring semester and summer before returning to campus for her junior year that fall. She was afraid that she had missed out on two years of making friends. She wanted to be part of a group.
“I wanted to reinvent myself on campus with the time I had left,” Sheridan said.
A few weeks into her junior year, Sheridan was representing a table for Women in Sport, as the club’s secretary when a white flier blew over to her table. She was prepared to throw it in the garbage can when she turned it over and read, “2021–2022 UConn Mascot Interest.”
Another club member encouraged her to do it. She laughed it off. But she noticed “No Experience Needed.” A week later, Sheridan inquired about the position.
With her pledge to get more involved on campus, the mascot flier felt like a sign.
Sheridan called her sister about being the mascot. Victoria initially thought it would be too large of a commitment but knew that her sister’s large personality would be a good fit for the role.
“I was even more thrilled when it became something she liked and stuck with, but most of all, I loved the new friends she made from it immediately,” Victoria said.
In October 2021, Sheridan joined the three other students on the mascot team. For the remaining football games, she acted as a “handler” for the mascots, to help with their difficulty seeing while in the costume. But, her first game in the Jonathan costume felt special to her. The men’s basketball team played a school that had been local to her as a kid, Long Island University, on her father’s birthday.
Before the game, Sheridan, who stands at 5 feet 3 inches, put on a suit too big for her and quickly learned she would have to look out through the costume’s mouth instead of the mesh eyes. Despite having a handler, she was afraid of running into a child or table.
She spent much of the first half pushing up the oversized head and being pulled into group photos with fans whose faces she couldn’t see. During halftime, she removed the sweat-filled costume head for the first time, and like the players, chugged water in the lower level of Gampel Pavilion.
During her first season, Sheridan was advised by her overseer to not tell anyone about her position, in hopes to maintain “the anonymity” of being a mascot. She said the most challenging part was telling friends she could not go out with them.
“When you keep telling people you have a thing to go to, or you can’t go to a game, they start to really question you,” Sheridan said with a chuckle.
That thing was a weekly practice on Friday afternoons to create social media content for the upcoming games. Sheridan and the three other mascots were also required to attend football games on Saturdays, as each mascot took a quarter to prevent overheating.
Sheridan’s double identity was revealed to her roommate when she brought back the suit’s black duffel bag into their dorm. Sheridan and another student she shared the suit with were responsible for cleaning it themselves. They would air-dry the suit and spray the mascot’s head with Febreze in their dorm rooms.
During the height of the basketball season of back-to-back games, the suit would still be damp when she got it from the other student, Sheridan recalled with a full-body cringe.
She felt relieved during her senior year that the suit could be professionally washed in the athletic equipment room. Due to the new authority on UConn’s Spirit Pride Tradition Team (SPT), she could also tell anyone about being the mascot.
“At the start, I didn’t want people to know. Then by the end, I wanted everyone to know what I was doing,” Sheridan said. “Hyping up the crowd, representing UConn Nation and just being the face of the brand.”
She still kept it a secret from classmates in her sport management classes. She recalled biting her tongue during discussions about Jonathan and UConn’s brand in her Introduction to Sports Marketing class.
She said that the “cat came out of the bag” – or rather the dog — during March Madness, when she told professors she was missing class for the women’s Sweet Sixteen game in Seattle and the men’s Final Four game in Houston.
Sheridan traveled with members of the cheerleading team, many of which Sheridan became close with over the two years. Paige Garrity, also a senior, said she felt that Sheridan bonded with the team quickly because of her genuine personality and her desire to help the team where she could. Garrity remembered bonding with Sheridan and the rest of the cheer team when they explored Houston and Seattle during their downtime.
“I really think that being able to experience this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity together has given us memories that we will cherish forever and brought all of us together,” Garrity said.
Sheridan’s trip during the Final Four was financed with a daily per diem. Other mascots at the Final Four, including the Florida Atlantic University owl, gets a scholarship, Sheridan said. Although UConn does not offer one, Sheridan hopes that in the future UConn will offer a mascot scholarship, as they do for pep band members.
Although many fans just see Jonathan around the court during the game, Sheridan said her mascot duties started well before the games. Her first full day in Houston started with a 5 a.m. report time to a convention center to film a segment for Good Morning America. The rest of the day consisted of creating content for the NCAA and interaction events with UConn fans, all in a fur suit in the 80-degree Texas weather.
The event-filled day paid off for Sheridan when she wrapped the mascot’s arms around the wood trophy after UConn’s championship win over San Diego State. After removing the mascot head, with confetti on the brim of her “Champions” hat, she took selfies with the cheerleaders, feeling happy to be a part of a team — something she had chased her entire four years.