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.)
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
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
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.
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
Thanks to years of
freshmen, Butch has hardly ever missed a Middlebury game. Not that he hasn't
"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."
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