You’ve probably seen him at a Santa Clara basketball game in the Leavey Center. Maybe you’ve spotted his big head and puffy cheeks at an alumni reunion, or maybe he’s popped up on the Santa Clara website. Wherever he is, one thing is for sure: Decked out in Santa Clara athletic apparel and always gritting his teeth to show pride and determination, Bucky the Bronco has become a fixture at Santa Clara University.
Bucky has had a long history on the Mission Campus, dating back to the fall of 1976 when a sophomore by the name of Kim Malley (daughter of former athletic director Pat Malley) sensed that Bronco sports games needed some more pep to match her own school spirit. One night for a basketball game, Malley decided to show up wearing a brown suit and a papier-mâché horse’s head that she made at a local theatre shop. Just like that, Bucky the Bronco was born, although he wasn’t Bucky right away. Back in 1976, he was a “she” known as Benny the Bronco.
“As Benny, I had a great time,” said Malley. “Kids treated me like a rock star. I loved being right in the middle of school spirit during a lot of exciting games, and I got to act downright goofy.”
Benny the Bronco became a figurehead of university athletics for the following two years until Malley graduated. The mascot would not resurface until 1995, when student Suzy Loftus ’96 followed in Malley’s footsteps by designing her own costume out of mothballs. It was then that the Bucky we now know was born. But it’s anyone’s guess who the student acting as Bucky is these days. When asked if it would be possible to divulge the names of the contemporary Bucky impersonators, current Assistant Athletic Director Rusty Weekes replied firmly, “No. Absolutely not. That’s part of the shtick.”
With that said, there seems to be only one way to get inside the head of Bucky: literally. Students can apply to wear the costume every year, and those who play the part well enough may stay on for more than one stint.
“If you do it and you really like it and we think you’re good, then you get welcomed back,” said Weekes. “We love to have more than one Bucky because we get all kinds of requests for Bucky. We kind of have to look for people to do it. Right now we have three Buckys.”
Whoever those three Buckys are, they definitely had to work hard for the position. “There’s certainly a tryout piece of [the application],” said Weekes. In rare cases, the Athletic Department will search out lucky students to become Bucky without receiving a formal application from them.
Bucky the Bronco is now a paid position. Compensation is essential when considering the rumor that the inside of the costume contains a notoriously foul odor. The smell seems to be unnoticeable from the outside, as Bucky has been asked to expand his reach away from just athletic events.
“He is in constant demand outside,” said Weekes. “He works with alumni; he works with reunions; he works with development; he works with the Office of Marketing and Communication… He’s all over the place.”
While times have certainly changed since Benny the Bronco arrived on the scene 37 years ago, the one constant that has remained over the years is the undeniable sense of school spirit that the mascot has brought to Santa Clara University.