The University of Texas at El Paso’s first live mascot was a burro.
Since 1974 when the moniker “Paydirt Pete” was adopted, fans have watched the mighty mascot undergo six incarnations.
Paydirt Pete started as a Disney-like character in 1980. He developed muscles and a smoking habit in 1983, but ditched the cigar three years later. Pete exchanged his mining helmet for a cowboy hat and a handlebar mustache in 1999, then became a scraggly miner the following year. In 2005, he was finally transformed into the “Magnum, P.I.” look-alike that Miner Maniacs love today.
While Paydirt Pete’s exterior has changed over the years, inside he’s always been human.
“My costume was part of me,” said Monica Castillo, who surprised friends and fans when she revealed that the person filling Pete’s size 15 boots from 2004 to 2008 was a woman. “The person who becomes the next Paydirt Pete needs to have pride. You’re representing UTEP.”
The first student to wear the Paydirt Pete costume was Jimmy Legarreta. Made by Roshu of Hollywood — the company that made costumes for Disney and Hanna-Barbera, the “Sweet Pete” costume was claustrophobic and hot.
“The people who designed (the costume) were expecting this 6-foot-4 cowboy with a mustache and muscles, and that just wasn’t me!” Legarreta said. “They went ahead and redesigned a few things.”
After two years, Legarreta literally outgrew the costume and passed the reins to Susana Perez, the first woman to don the duds of Paydirt Pete.
In 1983, Richard Glass, an El Paso artist and former ballet dancer, designed Paydirt Pete II, a leaner and meaner version, with a major league swagger and a cigar jutting from the right side of his mouth.
“I made this muscle suit with biceps and shoulders anatomically correct, so that whoever wore it would have this very muscular and powerful look to balance with the oversized head,” Glass explained.
Pete’s muscleman look came in handy at the UTEP versus Brigham Young University basketball game on Feb. 9, 1985.
During the intense contest that went into triple overtime, a brawl broke out between the players and Pete was right in the middle, recalled Richard Bland, who was Paydirt Pete that fateful night.
Bland described the season as a crazy time at UTEP. The University was nationally ranked and the BYU Cougars were the Miner’s bitter rivals.
In 1986, Pete put down his cigar and became smoke-free. The costume underwent further improvements in 1992, when it was lined with fiberglass and vinyl for easier cleaning.
The improvements were made after a presentation that David Permenter, a Paydirt Pete for three years, gave to the UTEP Alumni Association.
“At the football games, (Ricardo Lujan and I) would switch roles at halftime, so whoever got (the costume) the second half was the unlucky one who got to wear a sweaty costume,” Permenter said. “Thankfully that was usually not me because I was the punctual one and was in the costume first.”
In 1999, Paydirt Pete underwent a makeover. The fourth Pete traded in his mining helmet for a cowboy hat and mustache.
This version of Pete did not last very long and was replaced by a scraggly old miner with chubby cheeks and a thick, long beard who became known as “Deranged Pete” in 2000.
The sixth incarnation of Paydirt Pete was introduced in 2005 and Castillo inaugurated the costume.
“Wearing the costume was amazing,” said Castillo, who graduated from UTEP in 2009. “It was a rush. I didn’t tell a soul until I stopped because I wanted to know what people thought. So, if somebody went to a game and they said, ‘Did you see what Paydirt Pete did?’ I’d say, ‘Tell me!'”
During her tenure, Castillo crowd surfed at basketball games, traveled to a bowl game with the football team, and even attended children’s birthday parties as Pete.
“Because of Pete, I feel like I had the complete college experience,” Castillo said.