"So this is what it's like to be Superman," I thought.
Glancing at the array of foam and fur heads on the floor of the Nicholson Pavilion dance studio last Thursday, I started to feel like I had stumbled across some weird cult. Some underground ring of mute, theatrically dressed aliens. ("I've discovered a secret society!")
It was actually just Mascot Training at AWSP's CheerLeadership Camp.
It was incredibly fun to watch the six students from Adna, Eisenhower, Kennewick, Quincy, Mt. Rainier and Toledo high schools assume the roles of Captain Scallywag, The Mighty Cadet, Louie the Lion. Jack the Jackrabbit, Ajax the Ram and Chief Ike, respectively. I'm going to keep their real identities a secret because, apparently, that's part of the fun of being a mascot -- not having anyone know who you might be. Although in the case of the Adna H.S. Pirate (left), senior Jeremy Hubbell admits it doesn't take a lot of detective work to figure it out; the school only has about 200 students.
Heather Meier, a mascot trainer for the National Cheerleaders Association, said some of the participants were a little reluctant, shy even, when she first met them on day one of the camp. But once they donned their gear, it's like they were "completely different people."
Mascots have slowly gained new ground in schools, serving as both cheerleaders and P.R. ambassadors. Professional sports team mascots, like the infamous San Diego Chicken or, more locally, Squatch, the Sonics' mascot, have elevated the role. During last week's training, the mascots not only learned cheer techniques with their cheer squads, but also participate in special mascot classes and leadership training - finding ways to engage students and create a welcoming school culture.
In their mascot classes, they had specific coaching in creating skits and learning pantomime. If you want to be a mascot, mime moves are HUGE. Literally. Performing in front of an audience at a basketball or football game requires exaggerated movements and grand gestures. Some of the more patented moves? Pretending to take a shower, walking on hot sand, putting out fires, moving like a robot and, of course, sword fighting. It also helps if you can dance, and the four guys and two girls who were in class last week did a great job of keeping the beat, despite the heat.
Let's talk about the heat for a moment. Adding the costumes to the mix makes it a pretty sweaty operation. Some of the big giant heads have little fans in them to keep the mascots cool. It works... For about five minutes. Staff encourages them to keep hydrated and has them work without the costume most of the time. (Attention Gatorade marketing department...) The visibility can be poor in some of the costumes, too, so some mascots have an escort, usually another member of the cheer squad, to help them navigate a crowd.
Oh, and there's Do's and Don'ts for being a mascot: Do develop a personality for your mascot. But don't ever, EVER take your head off in public.
Meier, herself a cheer and mascot coach for a school in California, said Washington state's CheerLeadership camps are among the more sought-after among NCA staff because of the specific focus on leadership training and not just cheer technique. She's even thinking about sending her students up here next year, provided funding is available.
And, as in the academic world, there are standards for mascots. After performing a skit, the students were evaluated on various skills they had to incorporate into their performances. The students also critiqued one another and really seemed to enjoy hamming it up even for one another. They hope to start a blog this fall to keep their conversations going about being a mascot and help encourage other students to create mascots for their schools.
All in all, it was a fun day, and a great example of AWSP's Student Leadership office providing students with another fun way to engage in school.