The best college tradition is not dotting the i at Ohio State. It's not stealing the goat from Navy. Or waving the wheat at Kansas.
It's Picking Up Butch at Middlebury (Vt.) College.
For 42 years Middlebury freshman athletes have been Picking Up Butch for football and basketball games. It's a sign-up sheet thing. Carry the ball bags. Gather all the towels. Pick Up Butch.
Basketball players, men and women, do it during football season. Football players do it during basketball season. Two hours before each home game, two freshmen grab whatever car they can get and drive a mile off campus to the tiny house where 54-year-old Butch Varno lives with his 73-year-old mother, Helen, who never got her driver's license. And they literally Pick Up Butch, 5'3" and 170 pounds, right off his bed.
They put him in his wheelchair and push him out of the house, or one guy hauls him in a fireman's carry. They pile him into the car, cram the wheelchair into the trunk, take him to the game and roll him to his spot in the mezzanine for football games or at the end of the bench for basketball.
Butch always smiles and says the same thing from the bottom of his heart: "CP just sucks." Cerebral palsy. While his fondest dream has always been to play basketball, it'll never happen. There is little that he can physically do for himself.
"At first, you're a little nervous; you're like, I don't know," says freshman wide receiver Ryan Armstrong. "But the older guys say, 'We did it when we were freshmen. Now you go get him. It's tradition.' So me and my buddy got him the first week. He's pretty heavy. We bumped his head a couple of times getting him into the car. He's like, 'Hey! Be careful!' But he loves getting out so much that afterward you feel good. It's fun to put a smile like that on somebody's face."
And the kids don't just Pick Up Butch. They also Keep Butch Company. Take Butch to the Bathroom. Feed Butch. "He always likes a hot dog and a Coke," says 6'8" Clark Read, 19, a power forward. "It's kind of weird at first, sticking a hot dog in his mouth. The trick is to throw out the last bite so he doesn't get your fingers."
Thanks to 42 years of freshmen, Butch hardly ever misses a Middlebury game. Not that he hasn't been late.
"One day this year, the two guys were calling me on their cell," says Armstrong, "and they're going, 'We can't find Butch!' And I'm like, 'You lost Butch? How can you lose Butch?' Turns out they just couldn't find his house."