Student Helps Put Wildcat Willy on USOEC Apparel

Wildcat Willy is getting some added exposure beyond his mascot duties for NMU athletics. His image graces a new line of apparel promoting the U.S. Olympic Education Center. With the goal of strengthening the connection between the university and the USOEC, it’s only appropriate that the project was spearheaded by an NMU student who also wrestles for the women’s freestyle team.

Kuuiini Johnson, a double major in management and finance from Aiea, Hawaii, facilitated the design of Wildcat Willy engaged in each USOEC sport. Her favorite, of course, shows him as a wrestler crouched with his paws extended and ready to grapple (pictured). Willy can also be seen as a short-track speedskater bending low to the ice, a boxer with gloves ready to fend off a punch and a noticeably bulked-up weightlifter hoisting the barbell above his head.

Johnson said obtaining the rights to use Willy and the process of finalizing the designs was a cooperative venture between NMU, XP Apparel and the U.S. Olympic Committee.

“I got the preliminary ‘go’ to use Wildcat Willy from Cindy Paavola [Communications and Marketing] and then I got Ken Godfrey’s [Athletics] approval,” she said. “I worked with XP Apparel to design the logo, making corrections along the way. When the images were done, we got final approval from NMU and sent them to the U.S. Olympic Committee. Once they reviewed and agreed to the designs, XP Apparel printed the clothing and shipped it to us.”

For each sport, Johnson said she looked up clip art and sent it to XP Apparel for use as a guide in developing a proposed design. She also worked closely with the coaches to make sure Willy was positioned and outfitted appropriately for each sport.

“Technique is different for long-track and short-track speedskating and the blades on the skates are different,” Johnson learned, so the coach sent images to show the difference between each type. 

Johnson also is a student employee at the USOEC, assisting with clerical duties. She said when she first started, there wasn’t much merchandise available. Athletes began asking for sports-specific clothing, so Johnson designed a graphic for each team. After that, she wanted to develop a children’s line. “Kids like animals. I thought we should have an animal performing each sport.”

It wasn’t as easy as she hoped. Johnson couldn’t decide which animal to use for which sport, so she and her supervisor, Sue Tollefson (USOEC), decided to pursue Wildcat Willy. “There’s always been a gap between NMU and the USOEC,” Johnson said. “This was a unique way to tie the two together. I enjoyed working on it, even though I don’t have the artistic mind or computer skills like people who work in fashion do."

The purchasing aspect is relevant to Johnson’s management major, while doing inventory and creating income statements aligns with her finance major. Johnson said the project will help her to be a more effective manager. She gained insight into what employees have to go through and a better understanding of what might motivate them.

The apparel is available for sale in the USOEC office located in the Superior Dome. Tollefson said the reaction has been positive – especially from the athletes.

“They’ve asked in the past to have some visible connection with Northern,” Tollefson said. “Having Wildcat Willy on the clothing provides that. It also distinguishes the USOEC from the other Olympic Training Centers. Their clothing has their name with the Olympic rings, but there’s nothing else to distinguish them from each other. Because this is the only center located on a campus and affiliated with a university, it’s good to highlight that.”


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Updated: November 20, 2007

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