Cheney Free Press -

Ladies and gentlemen, presenting...Swoooop!!!!!

 


By JOHN McCALLUM

Editor

Wanted: Someone interested in providing crowd control. Must be a fulltime Eastern Washington University student, willing to travel, available all year to work late night and weekends. Athletic ability required; split personality helpful. Work attire provided.

OK, maybe Eastern athletic department officials didn't use this description to entice students to tryout for the university's mascot role, but they could have. As the Eagles mascot, Swoop not only gets Eastern crowds fired up with his eccentrics during games, but also is often the image of the university at events both on and off campus.

To fill the role, you've got to be at once both dignified, and maniacal. It's big shoes to fill – literally.

‘Super hero'

To find someone new to fill the mascot uniform, the university held tryouts on Friday afternoon, June 6, at the EWU Dance Studio, next to the Body Shop in the Sports and Recreation Center, popularly known as The Phase. Kyle Hoob, EWU's director of athletic marketing and sales, said the idea of public tryouts is somewhat new – actually a first for the department.

In previous years, Hoob said the tryouts were more one-on-one with department personnel. One of the reasons Eastern officials decided to hold tryouts was the important role that all mascots play.

“We want this to be a professional position,” Hoob said. “Swoop represents the university.”

It's a role that started on Sept. 29, 1973, when the Eagle mascot was introduced for the first time after the university – then known as Eastern Washington State College – changed its name from the Savages to the Eagles. Through the years the mascot has had names, like Joe Eagle, and Victor E. Eagle.

In 2004 Eastern adopted the name Swoop, Hoob said, and a new persona was born. But being a mascot is not an easy job. For starters, everything is done silently.

“It's just like Mickey Mouse,” EWU electronic media coordinator and director of Big Sky TV's, Davin Perry, told tryout participants. “No talking. It's a super hero kind of deal.”

In keeping with that image, the Cheney Free Press has decided to withhold the actual names of the participants, and will refer to them only by their first initial. No J. Jonah Jamison's in this bunch.

Separate identity

Tryout participants faced a panel of three judges, Hoob, Perry and Krysta Patacsil, the associate director of Eastern athletic advancement. As criteria, the university selected five areas: dancing ability, humorous interaction with fans, enthusiasm/energy, mascot charisma, and appropriate body type.

It's important to be able to fit into the suit.

It's not an easy either. The suit has multiple parts and layers, can be somewhat awkward and, most trying for those who wear it, hot. Especially when putting on the head, which is essentially a dressed up helmet that has little ventilation.

“The costume can get hot, especially at football games,” Perry said.

With the suit on, tryout participants were asked to show the judges their athletic ability, essentially their “moves.” Pushups, handstands, running, jumping and dance steps like the “moonwalk” are all part of the routine in the suit.

Music from rap to Michael Jackson's “Billie Jean” blared loudly from speakers, providing rhythm and inspiration to work with in the slightly darkened, sunlit dance studio. After about six or seven minutes of dancing and jumping around, the music stopped, and Perry began shooting different scenarios at the participants to see how they reacted.

We just scored a touchdown, what do you do? They just scored a touchdown. How do you react?

“At a basketball game, the other team comes out and runs right by you along the baseline. The crowd's booing – what is your reaction?” Perry asked.

Participants also demonstrated how they act in different situations, such as interaction with a kid, and finished with a couple laps around the studio floor as if trying to whip a subdued EWU crowd into a frenzy of excitement.

It's all part of the mascot charisma criteria, probably the most important aspect of being a mascot, Hoob said. Once the suit goes on, the person wearing it has to discard his or her own personality, and create another character.

“A mascot's not made for everybody. A mascot's got to have some swagger,” he said. “You've got to let loose, but abide by the rules.”

Hoob may understand more than anybody those rules; what comes with the mascot turf. He said he's been a Swoop stand-in on several occasions, and also taken on the role of “Boomer,” the mascot of the Spokane Chiefs hockey team.

As Boomer, Hoob put in an appearance one day at Cheney's Salnave Elementary School for a school event. As he strode through the crowd, one young man reached up, and punched him hard in the gut.

Hoob said there was nothing he could do, but move on.

Big role

All three tryout participants said they understood and embraced the power and responsibility being Swoop carries and means for the university.

“It represents our school,” ‘D' said. “Everybody loves Swoop.”

A junior from Port Orchard, Wash., who's majoring in nursing, ‘D' was the first to put on the suit, saying it was fun, if not a little trying.

“It was hot, but not too hot,” she said.

Besides wanting to represent the university, ‘K' said one of his reasons for trying out was dissatisfaction with the performance of last year's mascot, especially when compared to other mascots around the area, such as the University of Montana's “Monte the Bear.”

“He's crazy,” the marketing major and fourth-year student from Anchorage, Alaska, said of the Grizzly's mascot.

‘K' said he has spent a couple games in the suit, and has also gone incognito before as Santa Claus, and once as a frog at Halloween, giving him some alternative persona experience.

“I've got greater interaction, the moves and I wanted to get involved in something at the school,” he said.

‘C' said he also has previous mascot experience. The Bremerton, Wash., junior majoring in biochemistry said he bought an owl suit at a local costume shop – his very own private mascot – and used it recently to make a movie with some friends.

‘C' put the owl suit on and walked around Eastern's campus while his friends filmed people's reactions to his appearance. Assuming the role of Swoop would provide even more fun to interact with people.

“I think being Swoop is one of the coolest things you can do,” he said.

We have a Swoop

Hoob said all three candidates did a good job and the tryouts, which he felt were very successful despite the low turnout, will be the way Eastern finds their new Swoop from now on.

“It was good. We found the criteria we are happy with,” he said. “We will continue to go with this format.”

And after careful consideration and evaluation, Hoob added they have found their mascot, who will receive a partial scholarship for their work. In reality, all three will most likely get some time in the suit, he added, since the demands of the job would be tough to fill with just one person.

Need someone to enhance community and sporting events with the charisma to charm kids, enthusiasm to whip a crowd into excited frenzy, and a little swagger and attitude? Call 359-6380. Ask for Swoop.

John McCallum can be reached at jmac@cheneyfreepress.com

 

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