Mon Apr 18 02:19pm EDT
Four tuxedo-clad groomsmen stood to the left of the altar. Four bridesmaids in lavish gowns stood to the right. Smiling guests filled each row of seats in the small auditorium.
Yup, there was really nothing out of the ordinary about Johannes Schneider's and Michelle Waters' wedding on Sunday ... until the groom made his entrance.
Escorting Schneider arm-in-arm down the aisle was none other than "Big Stuff," Winthrop University's big furry Eagle mascot. Guests gasped in surprise and laughed and cheered as the mascot embraced Schneider in front of the altar, then high-fived the groomsmen on his way out of the ceremony hall.
The couple asked the mascot to be part of the wedding ceremony because Schneider is a passionate Winthrop basketball fan. The 29-year-old Winthrop alum founded the school's student fan club as an undergrad in 2003 and attended all home games wearing face paint and a Winthrop flag wrapped around his waist instead of pants.
"It was awesome having Big Stuff there," Schneider said by phone. "Besides the wedding party, my parents and Michelle's parents, I don't think anyone else knew we were going to have Big Stuff at the wedding until we were standing at the door waiting to walk down the aisle. Everybody was surprised but they loved it. It had the right effect."
The idea to have the mascot attend the reception to entertain the children was originally Schneider's, but it was Waters who suggested in November that Big Stuff actually walk her husband-to-be to the altar.
At first, Schneider assumed Waters was kidding. Once she started exchanging emails with the mascot, he realized she was not.
Big Stuff, a Winthrop student who requested his real name not be revealed, said that this was the first time he's ever been part of a wedding ceremony. To avoid spoiling the surprise, he hid for 45 minutes in the kitchen before his turn to come out, all the while worrying that he might spoil the wedding.
"It's definitely one of the strangest requests I've ever gotten," Big Stuff said by phone. "I've heard of mascots making an appearance at wedding receptions but never of actually being in the wedding itself. It's definitely something different, something that people will remember."
Before everyone left for the reception, Schneider and Waters had one final request for Big Stuff. They asked him to pose with them and the wedding party in pictures so the presence of a 6-foot cartoon bird at their wedding would be memorialized forever.
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