Julie Caruccio is the new face of a long football tradition – The Cavalier Daily

Kim Kirschnick has been leading the Virginia football team onto the field on horseback as the mounted Cavalier for more than two decades. When Kirschnick announced he was stepping down last year, an extensive search was launched for his replacement. Turns out his successor had been spending her weekdays as the interim dean of students.

Julie Caruccio, assistant vice president of research for student experience, decided to throw her hat in the ring when Virginia Athletics published the work. A native of Charlottesville, Caruccio is a former student and an avid rider and owner who was a member of the Virginia Equestrian Team during her time as a student in the 1990s. With careful consideration and the blessing of her longtime friend Kirschnick, Caruccio was selected for put on the cape

“Once I decided to apply, I was determined to do it,” Caruccio said. “It was super exciting to know that I would have the opportunity.”

He began training with Kirschnick over the summer and the announcement was made earlier this month. Caruccio is more than aware that he will be carrying on a fan-favorite time-honored tradition.

“A lot of people have told me that the mounted Cavalier is one of their favorite parts of football games,” Caruccio said. “I hope I can keep that part of the tradition alive.”

While Kirschnick has served as the mounted Cavalier for the most recent generation of Virginia football fans, he was far from the first to saddle up and lead the team on the field. The tradition dates back to the fall of 1947 when Virginia was preparing for a historic homecoming fight against Harvard. College student and Dublin native Francis Bell and another unknown member of the Student Independent Party, a non-fraternal political organization, saddled up for the first time in front of a record-breaking 24,000 fans and the mounted Cavalier was born.

However, the first appearance of the bikers did not immediately become popular. The tradition of the Cavalier on horseback went dormant until 1963 when the Virginia Club Polo team reinstated it. Polo team member Doug Luke was one of the first to take the reins, but various members alternated turns at the helm until 1973.

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In 1974, Scott Stadium underwent a facelift that included the implementation of Astroturf to replace the natural grass on the field. The new surface was not suitable for charging horses and the Cavalier was forced to operate on foot for the next 15 years.

Virginia football languished in the basement of the ACC for a decade after pulling the mounted Cavaliers act and efforts to engage fans already frustrated with characters like “The ‘Hoo,” a bewildering orange furry mascot, were failing. . However, the mid-1980s offered a fresh start with new trainer George Welsh righting the ship.

Under Welsh, Virginia finally chained back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 1952 and appeared in multiple notable bowl games. In 1989, Virginia was one of the best teams in the nation, winning a program record 10 games to earn a trip to the Florida Citrus Bowl. To celebrate the occasion, the mounted Cavalier made a special return and took the team out of the tunnel once more in Orlando, Florida. The entry was a success, and the Cavalier on horseback returned to Scott Stadium the following year. Riding duties in the 1990s were shared between the polo team and the Charlottesville Mounted Police.

“I think the mounted Cavalier has been established as an important tradition for U.Va. football,” said Terry Young, a Class of 1988 alumnus and long-time fan. “The crowd usually gets really excited when they see Saber and the rider come out of the tunnel and across the field.”

In 2000, with the introduction of the Carl Smith Center, Kirschnick made his debut as a mounted Cavalier, sweeping the field. The 2000s and 2010s were often unkind to Virginia football fans, but Kirschnick’s Cavalier and Saber Steed withstood the show’s tumult, reliably energizing fans through good times and bad.

“I remember the entrance to the 2019 match against [Florida State] it was one of the most recent really exciting innings,” Young said. “The crowd went wild when they saw the Cavalier come out of the tunnel.”

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Although all good things must come to an end, fans like Young have welcomed the changing of the guard.

“Kim Kirschnick was fabulous, but it was inevitable that he would retire at some point,” Young said. “I think it was extremely important that his replacement was someone who understood the importance of the Cavalier jockey and his role in the team’s entry. Julie Caruccio is essentially a lifelong Wahoo. She has worked closely with Kim Kirschnick and I have no doubt that she will do a great job.”

Caruccio has found the response from family, friends and fans to his new role gratifying.

“It’s funny to me that the impact on this has been so much bigger than when I became interim dean of students last year,” Caruccio said. “The best part is that I think this might be the first time I’ve done something that makes my two teenage sons proud, which is no easy feat!”

Caruccio is the first woman to take up the position full-time, although some of the rotating polo players in the 1990s were women. Her goal is to build fan anticipation and excitement, but she also knows that she has the potential to serve as an inspiration.

“I hope there are a lot of little girls who look at me and think they could do it too,” Caruccio said.

Virginia football fans will have to wait until Saturday to see Caruccio take the Cavaliers onto the field once again. As the team exits the tunnel behind her, Caruccio will simultaneously participate in a decades-old tradition while he creates something entirely new.

“I think this is an example of the best way to update a tradition,” said Caruccio. “Keep the elements positive, fun and community-focused while making sure it reflects who and what U.Va. it is in its third century.”

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