By MICHAEL ALEXANDER, Staff Photographer | Published May 29, 2014
ATLANTA—Who’s under that lion’s head and how did they end up there?
High school mascots who served their schools this year include some students who say they were the ones least likely to dress up in hot, heavy costumes and cavort in front of their peers.
Sophomore Brooks Maxwell was asked by athletic director Will Mayer to assume the role of mascot when Monsignor Donovan High School in Athens fielded its first football team, the Rams.
Maxwell stands about 5 feet, 6 inches tall before he puts on the costume. Once he puts everything on, he’s around 6 feet tall and carrying 10 additional pounds.
It took some adjustment in the beginning. He’s unable to see his surroundings, so tripping over people and benches was cause for some awkward and embarrassing moments.
“I’m usually a pretty quiet person. I keep to myself. But once I put on that costume I have to transform into an animated and energetic Ram,” said Maxwell. “This experience has helped me become better equipped to adapt to my surroundings.”
Mascots generate an energy and spirit that can ignite a fan base, provide humor, and they do it all in a nonspeaking, mime-like manner.
“The idea behind mascots not talking is … the suspension of reality. You want people to look at the character as a living, breathing thing, not just some dude in a suit,” said Rob Montepare, a youth minister at St. Jude Church, Sandy Springs, who has worked as a mascot for franchises like the Atlanta Braves and the Kansas City Royals.
He is also the co-founder of The Fur Circus, a sports entertainment and consulting group that, among other things, helps teams and performers develop a mascot program and identify and train talent.
Last fall he and his colleague Andrew Johnson trained the Titans mascots at Blessed Trinity High School, Roswell. According to Montepare, any teen mascot must understand that he or she represents the school both inside and outside the character.
The mascot strives to entertain but also to bring the school positive publicity.
“Get to know the traditions of the school so that you can be manifested through the medium of the character, and always be on when in costume. It’s also not a bad idea to work with a team of people, so that you can build tradition within the character program, get different creative opinions, and try new things,” said Montepare.
Children tackle the Cougar
Juniors Maddie Marburger and Rebecca Price became dual Golden Lion mascots in 2013 at St. Pius X High School, Atlanta. They dressed out for home and away football games.
“My family couldn’t believe I was going to be the mascot, but they were very supportive and came to every game,” said Marburger. Price said her friends think it’s hilarious that she’s the mascot. “It is not a secret who’s under the head,” said Price.
When asked what she will take away from the experience, Marburger responded by saying the need for drinking water and a good towel to soak up the sweat, because it can get a bit toasty under the gear, especially during the initial part of the football season.
Price said her favorite college mascot is the University of Georgia’s Hairy Dawg.
Marburger has no favorite mascots at the collegiate or professional level.
“Ironically, I’m frightened by mascots,” she quipped.
Holy Spirit Prep athletic director Mike Sickafoose needed someone to be the Cougar mascot for football games, so senior Matt Markham thought that it might be something fun and new to try doing. At first he found it “a little nerve-wracking” because he had to be outgoing, which doesn’t fit his personality.
Quickly his friends and other students figured it out.
“When they started tagging me on Facebook posts in the Cougar costume, I knew the gag was up. However, it didn’t take away from the fun of it,” said Markham.
One memorable moment occurred at a night football game. A gang of little kids started tackling him.
“There must have been 10 of them. They eventually laid me out on the stairs of the bleachers and started tugging at every loose part of the costume like my whiskers and tail. It was nuts!” Markham said.
When it comes to favorite mascots, for Markham it’s between the Stanford Tree (officially not a mascot, but a member of the Stanford band, according to the university website) and the Notre Dame leprechaun.
“In my football video game there’s this setting where the mascots can face off on the football field. I always choose the Stanford Tree and my friends can never beat me,” said Markham. “I also like the leprechaun because I’ve dreamed of going to Notre Dame for quite some time now.”
‘I thought they were cheering’
The origin of school mascots is as varied as the mascots themselves.
In the case of Pinecrest Academy, Judy Guilfoil and her husband, Bill, founding members of the Cumming Catholic school, were on a trip over Thanksgiving its opening year when they met a budding teen artist. One of his pencil drawings really caught Judy’s eye.
“It was an amazing armed knight with his sword lifted in a victory pose,” said Guilfoil.
The artist said it was a paladin, a knight who represented truth and honor in defense of the church.
It was a moment of revelation for Guilfoil. The next thought that came to her mind was Pinecrest Paladins. “We have our mascot!” she yelled out to her husband.
In 2000, Blessed Trinity’s inaugural student body of 164 freshmen and 55 sophomores were asked to choose a mascot. From about 40 suggestions, a committee of students and teachers cut the list to 10. Unable to reach a consensus, the top five (Cougars, Crusaders, Mustangs, Rams, Titans) were presented to the student body. Titans amassed the most votes.
In 2013 junior Christina Georgacopoulos volunteered for one of the two available Titan positions. After hearing an announcement over the school loudspeaker that one more was needed, senior Nicholas Romero stepped forward “on a whim.”
Georgacopoulos’s family was surprised and intrigued by her role. Most people, including friends and teachers, were shocked to find out she was one of the mascots because she’s so quiet in class, she said.
Romero said his family was so incredulous they weren’t truly convinced until they saw him in the suit for the first time.
When you’re a rookie mascot there are bound to be some funny moments. Romero recalled how part of his suit came undone for almost a whole half during a home football game.
“I was unaware that the whole stadium was trying to tell me about it. I just thought they were cheering,” said Romero.
Both looked to sources like YouTube for techniques and tips that might make them funny during games.
“Being the mascot helped me to let go of any insecurities and just have fun. You learn to let loose and not be too serious. It’s a change from everyday high school life,” said Georgacopoulos.
Paladin in revival mode
Senior Jack Joiner was a new Pinecrest student during the 2013-14 school year and the mascot role had been vacant for a while, so at the suggestion of one of the school’s Legionaries of Christ priests, he took up the task. Joiner primarily dressed out for home football games with his family cheering him on.
“The first time I received the mascot suit, it was being reinforced by duct tape, as it had not been worn in a while and has been around for many years. The leggings were made of plastic, and the arms were in some need of repair,” said Joiner. “By the end of football season, I was down to wearing the sword, helmet, and chest plate, which turned out perfectly fine, since being that much lighter made it that much easier to cheer.”
Now that the mascot has made a comeback, the school is looking into replacing and updating the costume.
Although it was short-lived, Joiner takes away a couple things from the school mascot gig. He said he is much more open to new experiences and he feels more comfortable when he’s the center of attention.
Joiner will be attending UGA this fall, and his favorite mascot is undoubtedly the school’s Hairy Dawg.
“While it would be fun to be the mascot, I think studying will take precedence,” said Joiner.
Angela Gentile Elledge, the associate director of admissions at Marist, was the Marist School War Eagle from 1986-88. As a sophomore, she wore the first full body mascot outfit. Just by coincidence, she was in the science room where the cheerleading moderator was unpacking the new eagle outfit, and she simply asked if she could be the mascot, dressing out for home and away football games as well as basketball games and pep rallies.
In the case of the current War Eagle, senior Katherine Robb’s friends thought she would make a great mascot. She tried out and was the unanimous choice.
Elledge had little to draw upon in terms of mascot training 28 years ago.
“I guess I did what I thought would be fun and garner laughs. It is amazing how silly, crazy, and ridiculous one can be when incognito. It definitely lowers one’s inhibitions,” said Elledge.
The role has given Robb a greater respect for collegiate and professional sports teams’ mascots, especially the funny things they do. Her favorite is the major league baseball Philadelphia Phillies’ Phillie Phanatic.
One of her fondest moments was the 2013 homecoming game when her best friend and fellow senior, Mary Helen Kelly, made a cameo appearance in the old eagle costume.
“It was so much fun with both of us as eagles,” said Robb. “I will never forget how much fun it was being a part of such a great school tradition and all the fun I had at the games.”