By Alec Harvey
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 one of the first to be selected a Friend of Aubie, the individuals selected each year to represent him at events at 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, female 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. He came to life through the efforts of James Lloyd, then spirit director of the Student Government Association, and the Auburn Alumni Association. Together, they secured Aubie’s first costume.
A number of people tried out that first year, and when it was over, Barry Mask was selected the very first Friend of Aubie, with Woerner and Bob Harris as his 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 what Aubie is today. Mask and his crew appeared at a handful of events other than football and basketball games. These days, Friends of Aubie make more than 1100 appearances a year.
And an even bigger change is the suit.
“it was horrible, and so, so hot,” Woerner says. “Nobody was out there 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, Mississippi.
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 that 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, agrees, saying that tryouts to be Aubie are “considered to be about the most-fair process on campus.” That process includes a “skit round,” in which participants don the suit and do a skit, and an “impromptu round,” in which the character is put in different situation to gauge reactions.
It’s that second round that usually separates the Friends of Aubie from the wannabes, he says.
“It’s not really about the appearance and what you see, 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 would like to see more females as Friends of Aubie, but she’s not sure that’s ever going to happen.
“If a girl could get all those motions down and make it through the interview, I would love for that to happen,” she says. “But it’s pretty much a boys’ club that I’m lucky to be a part of only because I was the first.”
She says the “furternity” of former Friends of Aubie treats her “wonderfully.” At the 35th reunion in 2013, she was given the Aubie Achievement Award, “in recognition and honor of service, commitment and dedication to the Aubie program.”
She is proud of what the program has become.
“Since that first year, Aubie has not been photographed without his head on, and they’re really secretive,” Woerner says. “I’m proud of them. They’re very competitive. They take the job – and I do call it a job – extremely seriously.”
Woerner is proud of her place in Auburn history.
“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.”