Final Buzzer: UConn Senior’s Journey as Jonathan the Husky Ends at Championship

Jonathan the Husky Mascot with trophy

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.

Flier for UConn mascot
The fli­er that enticed Kather­ine to inquire about being a mas­cot. Cour­tesy of Kather­ine Sheridan.

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.

A student celebrates on a basketball court
Sheri­dan cel­e­brates after the cham­pi­onship game. Cour­tesy of Kather­ine Sheridan.

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.