LUCKY CHARM

Mas­cots raise the roof, a sym­bolic home-field ad­van­tage

RSWLiving - - Departments - BY BRIAN WIERIMA Brian Wierima is a Cape Co­ral–based writer.

It’s near­ing game time and the elec­tric­ity is pitch­ing higher and higher. Chant­ing and cheer­ing are build­ing, and home fans in the sold-out sta­dium an­tic­i­pate that spe­cial mo­ment to push them over the edge into a crescendo of wild cheers. Then in sprints the team’s mas­cot, mak­ing a grand en­trance amidst the roar­ing crowd. As a duck, bad­ger, cow­boy or Viking, the mas­cot is a lone sym­bol proudly wear­ing the home team’s col­ors, pro­vid­ing an­tics through­out the game to hold fan en­thu­si­asm and to keep play­ers pumped.

Mas­cots aren’t just about games―—Mickey Mouse and Ron­ald McDon­ald are big-league celebri­ties. But school mas­cots feel more per­sonal, rep­re­sent­ing the spirit and her­itage of a team or a town. Think what the al­li­ga­tor means to the Univer­sity of Florida or Osce­ola to Florida State Univer­sity. Mas­cot­ing is also hard work. “The num­ber one job,” former North Fort My­ers High mas­cot David Crager says, “is to make sure your mask doesn’t come off, be­cause we try to make sure no one knows who is be­hind it. I re­ally did en­joy it―, and I know a lot of the stu­dents in the crowd en­joyed it.”

The mas­cot Knightro at the Univer­sity of Cen­tral Florida “is by far the ‘big man on cam­pus’ at UCF, and not just be­cause he stands seven feet tall,” says UCF’s Mark Sch­lueb, the school’s me­dia com­mu­ni­ca­tions co­or­di­na­tor. “No one brings more school spirit to the party than Knightro, and wher­ever he goes stu­dents gather around for high-fives and self­ies. When it comes to his moves,

THE WORD MAS­COT IS ROOTED IN FRENCH, MEAN­ING LUCKY CHARM.

Knightro puts other mas­cots to shame—―fans love it when he stands tall atop a pyra­mid of UCF cheer­lead­ers.”

The word mas­cot is rooted in French, mean­ing lucky charm. In the early days of mas­cots, they were mostly live an­i­mals. Although some live mas­cots are still used, such― as Rene­gade the Ap­paloosa that car­ries Florida State Univer­sity’s Osce­ola to midfield, it’s― the larger-than-life, pup­pet-like en­ter­tain­ers that dom­i­nate mod­ern side­lines, the top of dugouts and in the stands. Some schools have dropped ref­er­ences, icons and mas­cots of Na­tive Amer­i­cans so as not to of­fend.

But most mas­cots are free from con­tro­versy. That’s been true, for ex­am­ple, for the long­est time in Gainesville. One of Florida’s best-rec­og­nized mas­cots has been the Univer­sity of Florida’s Al­bert E. and Al­berta Ga­tor. The al­li­ga­tor was in­tro­duced in 1908 by Austin Miller, a law stu­dent at the Univer­sity of Virginia. Phillip Miller, Austin’s fa­ther, was in Gainesville for busi­ness and was ask­ing about the univer­sity’s mas­cot. Learn­ing there wasn’t one, the Millers de­cided on the al­li­ga­tor and had to re­turn months later with a photo of an al­li­ga­tor, be­cause the de­signer had never seen one.

The school’s first live al­li­ga­tor, Al­bert, made an ap­pear­ance in 1957. There was even a ro­botic al­li­ga­tor used at one time. It wasn’t un­til 1970 that Al­bert the Ga­tor was given the full-time job in a vinyl suit. His side­kick, Al­berta, was in­tro­duced in 1986.

Team nick­names are also based on lo­cal in­dus­try, such as the mi­nor league Char­lotte Stone Crabs base­ball club and its mas­cot “Stoney.” Stone crabs have been an im­por­tant part of the area’s fish­ing in­dus­try, with the Stone Crabs’ of­fi­cial col­ors re­sem­bling the blue of its Ma­jor League Base­ball par­ent team, the Tampa Bay Rays.

Not all mas­cots em­body the team’s nick­names. The Mi­ami Dol­phins, for in­stance, em­ployed a pair of life-size bob­ble­heads of two team leg­ends, Dan Marino and Don Shula, dur­ing the 2014 sea­son. The bob­ble­heads were fan fa­vorites out­side the sta­dium dur­ing pregame fes­tiv­i­ties.

So be it ei­ther a life-size pup­pet wan­der­ing the side­lines, or furry an­i­mals rep­re­sent­ing the home team, a mas­cot al­ways re­sults in louder cheer­ing and a more rau­cous crowd.

Al­bert E. and Al­berta Ga­tor have long ruled the field at UF. Life-size bob­ble­heads (be­low) of Dan Marino and Don Shula pep up the crowd for the Mi­ami Dol­phins.

From left to right: Osce­ola rides his Ap­paloosa Rene­gade to midfield to be­gin ev­ery FSU home game. Lo­cal mas­cots in­clude Stoney for the Char­lotte Stone Crabs; Pud­dles the Blue Goose for the “Ding” Dar­ling Refuge; Swampee for the Florida Everblades.

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