When he walks into a room, all eyes are on him. Fans shout his name. Crowds rise to meet him, all with the hopes of snapping a selfie with the man sporting a perpetual smile. No, he is not a rock star or a famous actor, but he is a celebrity of sorts.
He is Wolfie. Although the gray wolf-like creature with perky ears and a red jersey is a fairly new addition to Stony Brook—he turns 21 this February—his image has become synonymous with SBU school spirit.
“Wolfie is, in almost every way, the face of Stony Brook,” Stony Brook Alum Jared Reed, who played the role of Wolfie from 2012 until 2015 and helped define the character, said. “He’s what Stony Brook stands for, and is the essence of what it means to be a Seawolf. He’s the identity of Stony Brook.”
Wolfie abides by the Mascot 10 Commandments, which include “Never try to pick up or hold children,” “Do not speak when in costume” and “HAVE FUN,” as well as some other more obvious necessities like staying hydrated.
The character has been a constant link between the 25,000 students in the Stony Brook community. He watched from the sidelines as the university transitioned from being a Division III to Division I school, which officially took place during the 1999 to 2000 academic year.
“Wolfie has been a huge part of being a very young Division I program,” Assistant Athletics Director of Marketing and former Wolfie Chris Murray said. “It was tough for fans to fully understand what Division I athletics are really about when you’re Division III for 50 years the mentality is D-3, D-3, D-3. It takes some time to get fans to come around.”
But Wolfie was not always the symbol of Stony Brook. SBU has gone through four mascots in its 58-year history. When the university was still stationed in Oyster Bay, the Soundmen/Baymen represented the school. In 1960, the Soundmen became the Warriors and eventually the Patriots in 1966. The Seawolf finally emerged in 1994, when SBU began its eventual ascent into Division I.
A team of 32 Stony Brook students and faculty chose the mythical creature from a list of 200 possible mascots, according to the university.
Myths of the Tlingit, a Native American tribe in Alaska, said that the Seawolf is thought to bring good luck to those who see it. The Tlingit princess Kchokeen gained the ability to predict dangerous ocean storms after catching a glimpse of the Seawolf.
“The problem with college athletics is that student athletes come and go so quickly,” Murray said. “Whereas with professional teams players are there for 10 or 20 years. The longest you’re going to be here is four years. Wolfie worked as a way to symbolize athletics.”
In 2011, ESPN invited Wolfie to take part in a national ESPN College GameDay commercial. He was also the 2009 Sportsman of the Year for the Times Beacon Record Newspapers and the Long Island Press’ Best Mascot. He even made an appearance on “Extreme Home Makeover” when the show visited Setauket.
Wolfie always pulls out his signature moves, like the classic defense cheer. But what makes him unique is his versatility. He can go from wearing hammer pants and a gold clock around his neck dancing to “Hammer Time” to donning a full tuxedo and gliding his paws along the keys of a miniature grand piano to Billy Joel tunes.
There are currently 12 Wolfies who put on these performances. But in order to keep continuity across personas, performers are not allowed to reveal their identities.
“They take pride in that too,” Coordinator of Annual Giving and Branding Andrea Lebedinski said. “It’s like their little secret society.”
Lebedinski is in charge of scheduling events for Wolfie, which numbered at only about 25 in the mid-2000s but have since grown to over 400, according to Murray.
Murray reinvented the Wolfie persona in 2007 when, as a student, he put on the mask. Wolfie’s signature swag includes the classic high five, a continually bobbing head and exaggerated motions.
“Just in the five years I was at SBU, I watched Wolfie go from pretty much a one man show to a 10-plus person team,” Reed said. “The caliber of the performances haven’t changed much. Chris set the bar really high.”
Despite Wolfie’s surge in popularity, he has stayed true to his roots and continues to bring together the Stony Brook community through his cheerful demeanor and sometimes rowdy actions.
“He has changed and he hasn’t,” Murray said. “When people see Wolfie on campus or at a game they shouldn’t know who is in the suit. It should always be Wolfie. He has definitely gone outside the box now, which is great. He has evolved a lot, but at the same time he has maintained the persona of Wolfie.”