In 1978, Viki Leach Woerner was a freshman in early childhood education at Auburn University.
She also was a trailblazer, though only a handful of people knew it at the time.
That’s because Woerner was the first woman selected as a Friend of Aubie, the individuals chosen each year to represent the AU mascot at events in Jordan-Hare Stadium and around the country.
Most of the Friends of Aubie are a secret, but because Woerner was the first, and so far the only, woman to portray Auburn’s beloved mascot, she has received a considerable amount of attention.
“I heard about Aubie tryouts in The Plainsman,” Woerner recalls. “I was a cheerleader in middle school and high school, and a friend of mine said, ‘Oh, my God, you need to do it.’”
Aubie was the creation of cartoonist Phil Neel. The intrepid tiger came to life through the efforts of James Lloyd, then spirit director of the Student Government Association, and the Auburn AlumniAssociation. Together, they secured Aubie’s first costume.
A number of people tried out that first year, and when it was over, Woerner was one of the two alternates.
“We decided then that Aubie was going to be anonymous,” Woerner says. “We were never going to tell anybody, and Aubie was never to be photographed without his head.”
That pact has been broken before, but Woerner pretty much stayed true to it. Her family knew, and so did her roommate, but that was about it while she was at Auburn.
That first year was a far cry from today. Aubie appeared at a handful of events other than football and basketball games. These days, Friends of Aubie make more than 1,100 appearances a year.
And an even bigger change was the suit.
“It was horrible, and so, so hot,” Woerner says. “Nobody was in it for more than 10 or 15 minutes before you had to go somewhere and breathe. It’s on display now, and I swear you can still smell it through the glass.”
Aubie was still brand new, and no one quite knew what to do with him.
“You didn’t have transportation to games or a budget of any kind,” Woerner says. “You paid for your own meals. They got you into the game, but you had to get yourself there if it was an away game.”
The pluses far outweighed the minuses, though, in Woerner’s eyes.
“My favorite was doing fun appearances with the kids,” says Woerner, who graduated from Auburn in 1982, taught kindergarten for 30 years and now lives in Vicksburg, Miss.
Woerner helped Aubie at one football game, and that was an away game at the University of Georgia.
“I had to get a ride there, and my mom and little sister drove up to Athens from Daphne to meet me,” she says. “We beat Georgia. It was an awesome experience, a fun game. It’s probably one of the most fun experiences I’ve had in my life.”
Woerner believes one of the reasons she is still the only female Friend of Aubie is because she was one of the first.
“Aubie’s persona had not been established, so there wasn’t really anything to look for,” she says. “Aubie’s body type is slim and kind of flat-chested, which works against some girls. And Aubie now has definite, distinct male mannerisms, and unless you really practice them, you would likely be able to tell if it’s a male or female helping Aubie.”
Corey Edwards, director of Auburn’s Office of Student Involvement and an adviser to Aubie, says the two-step Aubie tryouts are considered to be about the most fair process on campus. “It’s not really about the appearance as much as it is the interaction,” Edwards says. “Aubie, the character, is a male, whether the Friend of Aubie is male or female.”
Woerner is proud of her place in Auburn history, even if there is never another female helping out as a Friend of Aubie.
“To be a part of something the first year it was created was phenomenal,” she says.
“I just have great memories. And the smell that will never go away.”