KINGSTON, R.I. – March 8, 2023 – It’s written in stone: “2 Rams in Love, Cortney and David.” You can find that inscription on a brick in the middle of the Century Walk on the University of Rhode Island’s historic quadrangle.
It’s just part of the story of David and Cortney Nicolato – perhaps the only two Rhody the Ram mascots to tie the knot. It’s a story full of “I love ewes,” laughs and Keaney blue. And a story fitting to tell today, March 8, the 100th birthday of the URI mascot.
“URI is in everything for us because that’s how we met. It’s the foundation of who we are,” says Cortney ’01, chief executive officer and president of United Way of Rhode Island and a member of the URI Board of Trustees. “It’s where it all began. I think that has been interwoven into our relationship in many ways.”
“We’re crazy enough that we somehow developed an affinity for the University through the mascot program,” adds David ’98, a former assistant director of alumni relations at URI. “We had the time of our lives at school because we were able to don a suit, have fun and show school pride. You have to have school pride if you need an IV injected in you for fluids after an appearance.”
Today, Cortney and David live in nearby Saunderstown with their sons Jacob, 15, and Ian, 12. They celebrated their 18th wedding anniversary in February.
But it wasn’t a love at first sight story, David says. When they met in 1996, Cortney Mahoney was a “cocky little thing” (Cortney prefers “resourceful”) from Pawtucket and David Nicolato was a New Jersey kid who ran the mascot program as part of the student alumni association.
When she came to URI from St. Raphael Academy, Cortney was looking for an activity she could do while working and going to school full-time. In high school, she was very active, playing sports, captaining the cheerleading team and serving on the student council. Her cousin had been Rhody and thought she’d really like it. “I had to work full-time to pay for school, but at the same time, I wanted to feel a connection to the university,” she says.
But the mascot program was a mystery. No one was supposed to know who Rhody the Ram was. So she went into “resource mode,” investigating how to join the mascot program. She learned David ran it. She also learned he was a resident assistant in Hopkins Hall, where her boyfriend also lived. That’s when the cockiness kicked in, perhaps.
“So, I just showed up,” says Cortney, with some good-natured ribbing. “David was sitting against a wall and I came right up to him and said I hear you run the mascot program. You could tell he was kind of taken off-guard. He was like, ‘What do you mean?’ I said I know you run the program. He finally admitted it and said, ‘Well, you’re going to have to try out.’ He was kind of a jerk. I’m not going to lie.”
“There were never really any tryouts at that time,” confesses David. “I was just putting her through the ringer.”
When she started, Cortney, a mascot for all four years, handled women’s games, the occasional football game on hot September days, and numerous weddings and other events – eventually moving up to men’s basketball games. David, a mascot for three years, had advanced to working the marque sports.
David says to be a mascot then you had to be resourceful, coming up with your own equipment for on-court stunts. At the time, mascots received no compensation or scholarship. You needed to be athletic and tolerant of a Rhody suit that was hot and smelly.
David says that while there was no pay, being a Ram was a good weight-loss program. “You lost between 5 and 10 pounds, just in sweat.”
And each mascot worked up their own schtick. Cortney liked to dance a lot, take pictures and sign autographs with children, and belly slide like a penguin across the court into cheerleader megaphones. David, who practiced five nights a week with the coed cheerleading team, preferred stunts – topping off pyramids and slam dunking using a mini-trampoline he’d cart to games (until he sprained his ankle).
“We were there to have fun. We were there to engage the audience,” says Cortney. “We were there to get tossed up by the cheerleaders and slide down the stairs on a sled. While I was in business school and working, I was the only one in a business suit on a rainy day. The mascot program was my way of just having fun, and when I took off the suit, I went back to the responsibilities I had. No one knew the difference.”
That anonymity – being quiet in the suit and unknown out of it – was attractive to David, who says being a mascot helped him come out of his shell.
“Even today, I don’t volunteer the fact that I was the mascot,” he says. “The next day after a game, you would hear the stories about how Rhody slam-dunked the ball and you knew they were talking about you, but you never said anything. For me, it was an outlet just to have fun and be a nut without getting into trouble for it. It was a phenomenal experience.”
Their highlights as mascots center on travel and taking part in high-profile events. David helped run men’s basketball Midnight Madness, which was shown on ESPN, and traveled to three of URI’s men’s basketball NCAA games during the Rams’ Elite Eight run in 1998. Cortney’s include seeing the Rams win the Atlantic 10 Tournament title on Lamar Odom’s last-minute shot and appearing in ESPN commercials that featured mascots from numerous schools.
Along with building memories, David and Cortney, who also became a resident assistant in Hopkins Hall, built a camaraderie based on their mutual secret of being mascots. “Rhody led to building our relationship,” she says. “It was the starting point. I think that’s why it’s still a part of who we are as a couple all these years later.
“David used to throw out the worst pickup lines ever. Now he’s taught our children these ridiculous pickup lines,” she ribs. “He’s still convinced to this day that’s what wooed me.”
After graduating from URI, David went to work in alumni relations at Clark University in Worcester, but they kept in touch. After Cortney and her longtime boyfriend broke up, she and David exchanged emails and made plans to meet for lunch and catch up. They made plans to meet again when he was down from New Jersey.
“It happened to be Sept. 11, 2001,” says Cortney, who was working as a technology consultant at the time. “I was working in the tallest building in downtown Providence, so I was evacuated that morning. I lost a friend on one of the planes. So the day was really tough.”
David called and asked if she still wanted to get together for dinner. They met at a restaurant in Garden City, Cranston, and had the best conversation, she says. “The reason why I was comfortable having dinner on that absolutely awful day was because I knew he was going to make me laugh and I knew he was going to find a way to normalize what was an incredibly unnormal day,” she says.
“I think that if you ever see a video of David as Rhody, that character is who he is in real life and was on that day – warm, funny and engaging,” she adds. “That was the moment when I felt, holy cow, he’s been in front of me the whole time.”
Their first date was URI’s Blue and White Ball. Three years later, they got engaged at the Blue and White Ball.
Even though their mascot days are long over, the University still plays a central role in their lives. When they were living in Texas and had the opportunity to move back for Cortney’s role at United Way, one of the pros was being close to campus. They hold season tickets in women’s basketball and football and attend numerous men’s basketball games, along with other campus events.
“We wanted our kids to see what a fantastic place it is,” says David, who followed a love of fixing things to start a handyman business, My RI Handyman. “So the kids can go eat Albie’s cheese fries or we’ll go to a Fine Arts event. We are the quintessential alum family that will take half the family down to Wilmington, Delaware, to support the women’s basketball team.”
They also helped pay it forward for future Rhodys, providing one of the first donations to the Rhody the Ram Endowment, which provides scholarships to the student volunteers who serve as Rhody.
“We are forever grateful for our time as Rhody because it brought us together and, as a result, we have built this beautiful life and family,” Cortney says. “And on the 100th birthday of Rhody, we are thankful that we are a small part of the history of this iconic mascot.”