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Brief History of Mascots
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Brief History: From art to reality
by Kris Burns & Traci Weinstein
Before mascots were dancing on fields and good-naturedly heckling sports officials and players, they were donned upon numerous cave walls and carved on the tops of totem poles. Although they were not called by their current name, they still served the same purpose as the modern day mascot. Mascots are described as a person, animal or object that is believed to bring luck to those that worship it. This belief is what brought early man to carve and paint these symbols on their walls and totem poles. It was thought that when they did this it would magically transfer some of the animal/objects power to the people. These "mascots" were most worshiped at times of harvest or widespread sickness. People believed so much in these beings that they would even dress in the likeness of them - thus, it was the early beginnings of mascotting.
It was not until the late 1800's that the first mascots started to appear on high school fields and college campuses. Soon every sports team was wearing their symbol embroidered on their uniform. Also, instead of large puppet mascots, real wild and domesticated animals were used as mascots. However, this way of mascotting was soon abandoned due to the high costs of taking care of the animals and it sometimes got a little bit too messy!
Mascotting nowadays is seen more of as an art or talent possessed by people who take pride in their unique trait. Undoubtedly, these people and their mascot counter parts have earned a significant place in, not only their high school and colleges' history, but in the hearts of the fans as well.
The 'key' to mascotting: Do you have it?
What does it take to finally become a mascot? A phone call? A try-out? It is actually a bit more complicated than that. Perhaps it is because this important aspect to becoming a mascot cannot be rehearsed on a stage or learned in a classroom. It is something that is developed naturally, maybe that is why this career is so unique. The key to becoming a mascot is 'character'. Character is the sum of a mascot's personality, because once in costume, it is merely not enough to act a character but to become them. The person in costume no longer exists as an individual, but as their character. Of all the components of character, personality is perhaps the most crucial. The character of a mascot is reflected through the personality; both behaviorally and physically. For instance, if a person is dressed as a lion for their mascot, they will nonetheless reflect some of the natural characteristics of a lion. However, mascots must also remember that their main market is towards children, so they have to maintain an air of friendliness and not too much aggression. This way children and other people will be more likely to approach them. Because even though a mascot has the power to make or break a crowd's enthusiasm, the crowd can just as easily break them.
Cues to ascertain a mascot's personality: What works and what doesn't
The name of a mascot is a very important element for developing character. The name allows the fans to determine the nature and even determine the gender of a mascot. For example, Ray the Rhinoceros or Kris the Kangaroo. It is evident by their names that both mascots would be male and that they're both wild animals. Ray the Rhinoceros would be big and strong and would represent power and force. On the other hand Kris the Kangaroo would be bouncy and quick and would symbolize agility and stamina. So, much can be said by the name of a mascot - thus, choosing one is just as important.
Behavior also helps to determine the character of a mascot. For instance, the way a person walks, struts, shuffles or charges in their costume, depicts a mascots' energy, enthusiasm and even approachability.
The way a mascot is dressed helps to define its personality. The same as in life, the clothes someone wears says much about a person. The same goes for a mascot. Again it helps to determine the gender and attitude of a mascot. For instance, does a mascot brandish a sword or wear a tutu?
The final aspect of defining a mascots personality traits, does not show in appearance or in attitude but in consistency. The more a mascot gets to know a frequent fan or the type of crowd, and vice versa, the fans and the mascots themselves start to cherish and expect certain behaviors and idiosyncrasies. This behavior gives the fans assurance and reminds them of who the mascot is and what he/she stands for.
Day and life of a professional sports team mascot
To find out the life of a mascot we contacted mascots from all fields of team sports. The mascots that we spoke to are the 'T.C. Bear' - Minnesota Twins American Baseball League, 'Jimmy' - San Jose Professional Soccer League, 'Howler' - Colorado Avalanche National Hockey League, 'Bobcat' - University of Central Florida, 'Blitz' - Seattle Seahawks National Football League, 'B.J. Birdy'- (ex-mascot) Toronto Blue Jays American Baseball League, and 'Spot the Fire Dog' - Portland National Women's Basketball League and 'The Raptor' - Toronto Raptors National Basketball League.
With the questions we asked there is a lot that we learned about. We started with how each person got into the mascotting business. It seemed that each mascot got started for different reasons, but all started in school either College or University or High school. For example, 'Jimmy' from San Jose became a mascot because he liked to perform in costumes and liked the thought of assuming a different identity, 'Blitz', on the other hand, had a sister as a cheerleader and saw the mascot having fun during the games and thought that it would be fun. Blitz' tried out the next semester and got the (volunteer) job. 'Bobcat' got started by performing in the parades at Walt Disney, then auditioned to become the mascot for the University of Central Florida.
We asked about the training each mascot went through, where and how long did it last. The training that each mascot got varied. 'Blitz' went to weekend college cheerleading camp that was held at University of Washington called UCA (Universal Cheerleading Association). 'Bobcat' was trained in parade interaction by Walt Disney World. B.J. Birdy trained at Ontario Place. 'Spot the Fire Dog' trained in theatre, and took gymnastics, rollerblading, juggling and basketball classes. 'Jimmy' and 'T.C. Bear' training was just working on the job.
So what is it really like being a mascot? We wanted to know the good and bad aspects of being a mascot. Both seemed pretty consistent throughout the 8 mascots we spoke to. The main good reasons was to make people smile, and laugh whether with or at the mascot. Also, as 'Blitz' says "I get paid to jump around and act like a fool". Some of the extra perks of being a mascot is traveling, for example, traveling with the team to out-of-city games, Mascot Olympics in Orlando, Florida or the Mascot Convention in Philadelphia, etc.
The bad aspects of the life of a mascot is also very consistent throughout. One main problem is the heat, sweat and smell of working in the costume. 'B.J. Birdy' installed a battery operated fan in the head of the costume to try to keep the inside cool, but the noise of the fan made it difficult to hear. Next he tried a cooling suit (which is said to be used by the air force pilots in the Gulf War). The suit was a long sleeved shirt with tubing through it. On the hip was a battery operated pump that added to the weight of the costume and it inhibited 'B.J. Birdy' from doing some tricks. The water stayed cool for about 20 minutes, then warmed as the body temperature increased with the exercise. Basically the best way to keep cool was to take a lot of breaks and to replenish with fluids and to have your costume made with plenty of ventilation and made out of the lightest material possible.
The second main problem is the middle school kids harassing the mascots, by hitting, kicking, or just trying to hurt or 'piss-off' the mascot.
The costume is a very interesting piece of the life of the mascot. The fact is that they are not as heavy as one would imagine. But, they are cumbersome, have a limited air flow, and have impaired vision. 'Blitz' - Seattle Seahawks National Football League's costume is about 10 pounds and consists of a spandex suit with foam muscles built in and with a football uniform over it. The head is constructed with fur with a rubber beak covering a hockey helmet underneath. He states that breathing is pretty difficult and it took some time to get used to it. The heaviest of the mascots costume seems to be 'Jimmy' - San Jose Professional Soccer League at 25 - 30 pounds. The average seems to be about 10-15 pounds dry. But, if the costume got wet then add about 2 - 3 pounds more.
We also wanted to know the communication. Difficult or easy communicating to people without speaking. All the mascots say that it is hard at first, but just have to get use to it. 'T.C. Bear' - Minnesota Twins mascot says, "That is what makes the position fun and challenging". 'Howler' - Colorado Avalanche mascot says, "It forces you to be creative and think". 'B.J. Birdy'- (ex-mascot) Toronto Blue Jays says that he was the only mascot that was allowed to speak to the public freely.
There is strict confidence about who the mascots are. The mascots are allowed to tell their immediate family, and some close friends, but that is about it. Another reason for the secrecy is that the mascot 'Bobcat' - University of Central Florida is a woman and the mascot character is a male. She says, "That it is just easier if people don't know".
Are there rules to being a mascot? 'Bobcat' - University of Central Florida says, "The only rule is that there are no rules. Anyone who claims there are a set of mascot codes is probably a very very limited performer". There are some things that mascots should never do. One is to never remove the mascot's head in front of the public especially children, always stay in character. Two, never argue with the officials, ('B.J. Birdy'- (Ex-mascot) Toronto Blue Jays got kicked out of a game for challenging an umpire's call). And three, treat fans with respect if you goof with them make sure you give them a hug afterwards. Make sure everyone leaves with a smile.
Including the job of mascotting during the games, there are other things the mascots have to do. 'Bobcat' - University of Central Florida sets up set props for other mascots, filming other mascots while doing their acts. 'Blitz' - Seattle Seahawks National Football League tours elementary schools in and out of season. He also promotes and markets his character. 'Jimmy' from San Jose also does outside appearances, participates in give-aways and maintains the costume with washing and repairs. Most of the mascots have to do appearance at parades, charity events, kids birthday parties, etc.
Even though working as mascots, these people have to deal with a lot of problems like the heat and exhaustion of working in a costume or trying to outwit middle school kids. This is a job that they love and they become these characters which make them so memorable and enjoyable to watch perform. Giant Greeting Cards
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