Rolling out the 69th Mountaineer Mascot
Saturday, March 4, 2023 marked the final time Boone County native Mikel Hager rolled out the carpet for a West Virginia University basketball game — at least while wearing his cheerleading uniform.
Hager, announced Saturday as the 69th Mountaineer mascot, has spent four years on the Gold cheerleading squad at West Virginia, and plans to put that experience to use when he trades in his current uniform for the one made of buckskins.
“I think it will be a really smooth transition, just because of how close I’ve been to the position over the last few years,” Hager said of the change.
With an audible smile in his voice, Hager talks about the skills he’s honed as a cheerleader — particularly when it comes to the lift competitions on-court — and how they’ll enhance his role as the Mountaineer and how the role has evolved with the previous two.
“We put Mary (Roush, the 68th and current Mountaineer) up in a stunt at the game, and Colson (Glover, the 67th Mountaineer) last year did some diamond heads, so they’ve already kind of laid the foundation for the Mountaineer to get involved in that kind of stuff,” he continued. “It’s a talent and a skill that I have, so I’d like to use it to our advantage to get the crowd more invested.”
The mascot announcement comes at the final media time out of the final home game, meaning Hager spent the majority of the Mountaineers’ 89-81 win over No. 11 Kansas State in his current cheerleading role.
That role includes Hager’s responsibility of being part of the team which quite literally rolls the carpet out for player introductions. In this day's case, it meant doing it twice for Senior Night at the Coliseum.
The ceremonial first roll-out saw the pathway for senior managers and players to be recognized on court before the game and before Hager rolled the carpet back up to be ready for game introductions.
That second time should be a much more familiar look for fans of the Mountaineers, as Hager dodged spotlights and fellow cheerleaders to pave the way for the men’s basketball team.
Fans will recognize Hager as the cheerleader who catches the giant roll by foot, popping it into his arms and toting it out of the way when the carpet runs out of room to run.
From there, it was 36:33 of game time and business as usual for the soon-to-be-known 69th Mountaineer mascot.
"I didn't really feel like he was nervous throughout the game, because I think he was still in 'cheerleader Mikel' mode."
- Mary Roush
Current Mountaineer mascot Mary Roush thought that those minutes passed by a bit easier for Hager than she remembered for herself.
“I didn’t really feel like he was nervous throughout the game, because I think he was still in ‘cheerleader Mikel’ mode,” Roush said.
The announcement of the new mascot during the final time out means one other thing: The current Mountaineer gets a chance to lead the Coliseum in a “final” cheer during the under-8 minute time out.
Roush took center Coliseum stage for one last time before surrendering next season’s responsibilities to Hager.
“It was absolutely amazing. I was definitely emotional about the National Anthem and my final cheer off,” Roush said.
“There were a lot of full-circle moments,” she continued. “I got to think of the girl one year ago who was just happy to have the opportunity to stand on that court and be a finalist — let alone have her dream come true … just such a full-circle moment to think about where I was, where I am today, how much the Mountaineer has changed my life and helped me grow into the amazing Mountaineer I am today.”
"I was definitely emotional about the National Anthem ..."
- Mary Roush
“Mikel has been the person who has stood directly next to the Mountaineer for the last four years,” Roush said. “I feel like with that position, he knows the Mountaineer more than anybody — honestly.”
“When I went into it, I was really scared and on my toes … but Mikel was the first person to give me tips and tell me where to stand and show me the ropes of being the Mountaineer,” Roush said.
“It’s really cool that the roles are reversed now and I get to show him all of the parts of the job that he didn’t realize,” she continued.
It was time for the announcement, and candidates Braden Adkins (who will serve as Hager’s alternate), Christian Adkins, and Hager, left-to-right respectively in the photo above, waited for their time to take the court. And when Hager’s name rang through the Coliseum, the loudest and fastest roar exploded from the cheerleaders stationed in front of the student section.
“They’ve been awesome,” Hager said of his teammates. “They’ve been super supportive. It was really cool to be able to celebrate it with people who are important to me like that.”
That much was noticeable when Hager grabbed the rifle and headed right toward his teammates to let out his first roar as the Mountaineer-in-waiting.
The enthusiasm Hager displayed was unmistakable, and that first cheer holding the rifle was a moment he’s been waiting for.
“I’ve done it hundreds of times before at different sporting events,” Hager said of leading the ‘Let’s go!’ chant on the Coliseum floor. “But something about just getting to hold the rifle and be out there by yourself — it hits a little different, for sure.”
"... something about just getting to hold the rifle and be out there by yourself — it hits a little different, for sure."
- Mikel Hager
“I saw his persona change (from ‘cheerleader Mikel’) when he won, when I gave him a hug, when he grabbed the rifle,” Roush said.
“You could tell he was genuinely just like shocked and so excited — and also nervous,” she continued. “Holding that gun and doing the cheer for the first time is so nerve-racking. I give it a 10 out of 10 — he’s been doing the cheer for a really long time and I think he’s been waiting a really long time to finally do it with the rifle in his hand, so I think he did a great job.”
From the court and excitement to the bowels of the Coliseum to give a first television interview as the next West Virginia University mascot, Hager went. To which he concluded by acknowledging he wanted to watch the rest of the game — a few last minutes at home before putting the buckskins on to start a new season.
And, for Roush, it was a chance to bring the family onto the court for a final time and have a few pictures taken to remember her basketball season as the 68th Mountaineer mascot in her beloved home state and University.