By Mackenzie Mays, Erica Mokay & Ashley Piomelli
But few know about the pride behind the musket itself.
Every Mountaineer mascot for more than 30 years has carried muskets made by one man: Marvin Wotring.
Wotring, a 1965 WVU graduate, has been building rifles for his alma mater since 1976 – making him a key player in about half of the Mountaineer’s entire history.
“Mountaineers are proud, compassionate, down-to-earth people. I’ve been a lot of places in this country, and I’ve never found a place I like more than West Virginia. And, Mountaineers are why,” Wotring said. “Other schools have some sort of mascot, but they’re not individuals. They could have anyone behind those costumes. Mountaineers are different, and I like to think these rifles are special.”
Wotring operates the Mountain Rifle Shop on the outskirts of Morgantown and learned to build rifles at a vocational school in Preston County, W.Va., during the ’70s.
Since then, Wotring has built 888 rifles and is currently working on his 889th.
His rifles have been passed down from mascot to mascot, and replicas are requested by WVU alumni and fans across the country.
For Wotring, it’s important that his rifles have as much West Virginia in them as possible.
“Everything I use on the rifle comes from within the state. All the wood is from local sawmills,” he said. “There’s a stack of lumber in my driveway now airdrying so that I can cut it into planks. It takes about a year before I can use the wood.”
Though it takes a lot of work and great attention to detail, Wotring said he still enjoys working with his hands after all this time. He’s gotten better at it, too.
When he first started, a rifle took him about 300 hours to finish. Now, he finishes on average of about 90 hours per rifle.
“When I first started; I had very little equipment back then so I used all hand tools,” he said. “All my life I’ve been working with my hands – I just enjoy it, and I love guns.”
Over the years, Wotring has gotten to know his fair share of Mountaineers – not only as University symbols, but as people, too.
“I’ve worked with the Mountaineers, and I’ve had a great relationship with all of them. I’m still in contact with quite a lot of them,” he said. “I built this shop so I could work my best on the rifles, and now they’re being passed down by different generations of Mountaineers. And, I enjoy that.”
While Wotring has been working for decades to preserve one of WVU’s most prized traditions, his connection to the University goes deeper than that.
“It’s not just about rifles and buckskins and coonskin caps. I do feel connected to the Mountaineer and to WVU. I met my wife at the University while she was in nursing school, and we’ve been married 45 years,” he said. “My son graduated from there too, and now I have a granddaughter who’s a senior in high school and is considering the same path.”