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Terror at 9 1/2 feet: How Wolfie Jr. stepped off dugout roof and into history

Apr 23, 2010, 4:00 PM EDT

Back after a long hiatus, not seen since the ancient times of defunct culture blogs Ironminds and The Black Table, it’s my old column, Rick’s Cafe Americain. Every Friday. (May cause drowsiness, symptoms of hay fever).
Ironically, this was to be David Kert’s farewell performance. The University of Nevada-Reno senior had occupied the schools’ Wolfie Jr. mascot suit for three years, and his appearance at an exhibition baseball game between the Class Triple-A Reno Aces and his own Nevada Wolfpack earlier this month was his last hurrah. The psychology major from Cameron Park, Calif., was planning on a little song, a little dance, and then fading into the sunset, hanging up the wolf head for good. But as some wiser, larger mammal once said, announcing your plans is a good way to hear God laugh.
And oh, how they laughed.
You all know the basic story by now, because Kert’s tale has gone viral in an embarrassing, YouTube kind of way. In short, Wolfie Jr. was moonwalking atop the Reno Aces dugout when tragedy struck: He skewed a bit sideways, and plunged off of the roof and onto the concrete floor below. Adding to his humiliation, Aces players did their best to ignore him, a couple of them even stepping over his prone body.

After a feeble attempt to save Wolfie Jr., the Aces mascot, Archie, took a brief glimpse of the wreckage, then continued plying the crowd. But Wolfie’s plunge wasn’t part of the act.
“One fan screamed, ‘Wolfie Jr.! No!’ ” recalled Kert, talking by phone from his hospital bed. Tubes and wires protruded from his body; which was otherwise covered in Plaster of Paris. Machines kept his lungs functioning; the only thing keeping him alive. Other mascots … a large turtle, a raccoon, assorted fowl … kept vigil outside. Somewhere off in the distance, a wolf howled …
Of course none of that is accurate. Actually, Kert is fine. “Not even a scratch,” he bragged to me by phone. “Not everyone knows that, though. The YouTube video just kind of cuts off after I fell. One guy wrote on the team’s Facebook page, ‘Yeah, I heard he died.’ Another rumor was, I broke my back. But I’m perfectly OK.”

Kert described the accident like this: He was engaged in friendly mascot competition with Archie, and decided to go to his signature move; the backwards moonwalk. But he wasn’t entirely paying attention to his surroundings.
“I have no real peripheral vision in the wolf head, and I kind of went sideways,” he said. “I went down, and landed on my butt, on concrete. The players kind of ignored me at first, then one said ‘Are you OK, dude?’ But they didn’t want to touch me. Eventually I jumped up and motioned to the crowd that I was OK. Like, ta-daa!”
Kert said that his mascot tail broke his fall. And possibly saved his life? Yeah, that’s how I’m telling it.
A couple of days later, Kert’s roommate was bouncing off the walls. “He said, ‘Oh my God, you’re on this and this,’ referring to MSNBC and other reports on TV. I had all these emails. One of the Reno players is in one of my classes. He asked if I was OK, and when I said I was, he wouldn’t stop laughing. He laughed all through class.”
Kert became Wolfie Jr. after he noticed a campus advertisement for a mascot in 2007. “I thought, I can do this,” he said. “I did a routine at tryouts, and they said the job was mine.”
Kert says that he’s inspired by cartoons when coming up with his routines.
“I looked at a lot of the animal archetypes in cartoons, and noticed their movements,” he said. “For instance the way a dog will scratch his face with his foot. I started doing that as Wolfie Jr., and it seems to be a crowd favorite. It’s humor people can recognize.
“Being a costumed mascot is being in the moment. It’s a way to connect with people in a way that that I had always had trouble with before. I had always been the kind of person who kept my head buried in books, and didn’t socialize much. This brought me out of my shell. I’m sorry it’s at and end.”
But not quite yet. Wolfie Jr. will make one final appearance tonight at the Grand Sierra hotel and casino in Reno.
“Because of all the publicity surrounding the fall, they wanted me to appear at their Young Alumni event,” Kert said. “It seems that Wolfie Jr. is pretty famous now.”