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Extra Credit At Middlebury
Rick Reilly
October 01, 2007
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.
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October 01, 2007

Extra Credit At Middlebury

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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.

Freshman athletes have been Picking Up Butch for football and basketball games for 42 years. 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 56-year-old Butch Varno lives with his 72-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 or a 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: "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 wideout Ryan Armstrong. "But the older guys say, 'We did it when we were freshmen. Now you go get him. It's tradition.' "

And the kids don't just Pick Up Butch. They also keep him company. Take him to the bathroom. Feed him. "He likes a hot dog and a Coke," says 6' 8" Clark Read, 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 years of freshmen, Butch has hardly ever missed 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."

Nobody at Middlebury remembers quite how Picking Up Butch got started, but Butch does. It was 1961. He was 13, and his grandmother, a housekeeper at the dorms, wheeled him to a football game. It started snowing halfway through, and afterward she couldn't push him all the way home. A student named Roger Ralph asked them if they needed a ride. Ever since then, Butch has been in the middle of Middlebury sports.

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