When the Shoemaker High School Grey Wolf mascot goes to Orlando, Florida, this holiday season, it will be a Disney dream come true.
As over the top as that might sound, senior Dakota Widenor is OK with it. He’s always had a flair for the theatrical and makes clear that being a mascot is as serious as it is hilarious.
It was during family trips to the famous Disney theme park that Widenor became fascinated with the privilege of putting on a big, fuzzy costume and becoming a hero to children of all sizes and ages.
As an eighth-grader in the small Central Texas town of Wortham, he first tried out and became the school mascot.
After moving to the Killeen area for high school, he stepped into the role at Shoemaker and has worn the gray-and-blue smiling wolf head four years.
This year, he was named an All-American mascot and received invitation to the Citrus Bowl in sunny Orlando.
A trip to Disney World is part of the gig.
Being a mascot on a football field is a lot of things and that matches Widenor, who has a lot of interests and goes to a lot of schools.
“It’s hot and sweaty,” he said of the mascot role. “It’s fun to see how kids and their parents respond. Kids get excited. It’s like you’re Santa Claus.”
Technically, as mascot, the wolf-wearing Widenor is part of the cheerleader corps, but he takes liberties that the cheerleaders can’t.
“I improvise on the field. It’s like being a clown,” he said. He rubs a shiny surface, like a bald head and gazes at his reflection. He has kids scratch behind his ear and he shakes his leg like a contented canine. “I have to be the character.”
“Not many people value the mascot, but it embodies the spirit of the school,” he said. “Everyone looks at the mascot. When I’m wearing the costume, I’m respectful, I’m fun, I’m spirited about my school and the players.”
Whenever music plays from the Shoemaker band or the opponent’s team or from the scoreboard, Widenor is dancing. “I make light of everything. I shake my booty. I play dead.”
He walks into the stadium and pays attention to children, listening to them and responding nonverbally. He and the cheerleaders venture to the visitor’s side and he gets in the expected altercation with the opposing mascot and lets him or her win.
“It’s lots of miming,” he said. “It’s an art form. You have to wave and be expressive. The uniform absorbs a lot of the motion so you have to be extra expressive.”
When he’s not wearing the outfit, Widenor is even busier. He goes to three schools a day, beginning at Central Texas College, continuing at Shoemaker High School and finishing at the Career Center.
He is part of several honor societies and theater and has plans to organize his peers to become more involved in government and teen issues.
The Shoemaker senior is headed to the University of Texas and is interested in pursuing politics, acting and probably both. He might even try out for the mascot position and is considering an acting gig at Disney.
He came up with an original skit using a cardboard trophy and the song “We Are the Champions” to try out and win All-American status and a chance to perform in Orlando. “Dreams really do come true.”