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Holladay Journal

Mascots make a comeback, bring student involvement, spirit back to schools

Sep 01, 2021 02:57PM ● By Julie Slama

Altara Elementary’s Kittyhawk, dressed as a mummy, participates in a fall festival fun run in 2019. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Mascots are making a comeback as many area schools this year look to bolster school spirit and pride, which in any year school officials say is good, but especially after 18 months of uncertainty in school life during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The mascot is one of the foundations of the visualization of school spirit,” explained Tara Battista, Cottonwood High School’s student government adviser. “When you see a mascot and you see your logo represented, jumping and cheering, that brings a whole new energy to the crowd, to the students, and allows them just to see their school pride to come to life. We want student to feel when they come back to school, we will have this revival of things happening again. We will make it fun, we will make it safe and most of all, we want them to be able to display their Colt pride, so having a mascot is a critical piece of that.”

Cottonwood High’s Colt is expected to be part of their homecoming, Sept. 23. Murray High’s Spartan made its debut at the Fourth of July parade after an absence of years, then welcomed the football team onto its new field in the season opener.

Brighton High is in the process of ordering a Bengal costume.

“Our costume was just old and hammered,” said Brighton Principal Tom Sherwood, adding that looking for a new mascot began after the Bengal’s last appearance fall 2020, but between COVID-19 and rebuilding the school, the process got pushed back. 

For the new school’s ribbon-cutting, the construction company rented a costume so the Bengal could make an appearance, Sherwood said.

“It’s not a matter of not having to have a mascot, but I think the costume might have gone down with the ship—or the building in this case,” he said. “I think mascots can be a good way to get fans involved and they can help control the crowd, they can help lead the cheers, they can be a support to cheerleaders, they can build school spirit.”

Mascots can be seen in all levels of schools. Recently, Midvale Middle purchased a Trojan costume. Riverview Junior High renamed its mascot to a Raptor, and the mascot was paraded through the school’s hallways as part of the announcement. When Altara Elementary showed an updated look for its Kittyhawk, the mascot made an appearance—and many more since at assemblies, fun runs and other events.

At Cottonwood, student government adviser Tara Battista said Charlie the Colt has been absent for at least the five years she has worked at the school; when inquiring, she was told that the old costume went missing.

“When it disappeared, it was quite old, like 10 years, so maybe it was time to get a new one, but then no one ever took charge to make it happen so the mascot just got lost,” she said.

School officials say losing costumes is more common than one thinks as the responsibility of the role of the mascot shifts from cheer to athletics to student government advisers.

Battista said that when she became student government adviser two years ago, it was decided to bring back the Colt. Then, COVID-19 hit, and the mascot got pushed to the backburner. 

Now, the $1,200 dark brown stallion costume is on order (from the same company that makes the Utah Jazz Bear’s costume) and tryouts, which is open to any student gender, are being scheduled. There is a possibility of more than one student to be the mascot to share its responsibilities, but that depends on tryouts, she said.

Battista anticipates Charlie the Colt to wear a football jersey on the field or a basketball uniform when it cheers on those teams.

“We’re working with our student organizations to disperse the mascot where they want it,” she said, adding the Colt could wear a Cottonwood hooded sweatshirt when it’s at assemblies or supporting organizations and clubs. “One of the biggest goals for student government this year was to increase school spirit and school pride and get kids involved and excited coming to all types of activities.”

However, don’t look for Charlie to tumble and do stunts.

“We are still working through some safety concerns with that with the (Granite School) District,” Battista said. “Right now, it’s going to be hyping up the students, their passion for Cottonwood, their Colt pride.”

That’s the role the Spartan is taking this season, although previous mascots have been tumblers and on the cheer squad, said cheer coach Lia Smith, who is overseeing Murray High’s mascot in Murray School District and interviewed the student who was interested in being the mascot.

“There weren’t any (tumbling) skills involved, it’s more just the student’s personality and drive to involved others, to create a positive environment and include as many people in the school and in the community,” she said, adding that the Spartan also has good grades and citizenship.

The Spartan, which is named Leonidas or Leo for short, made its comeback this year as a result of students approaching Smith.

“A group of students came to me as cheer coach March last year and said they really wanted a mascot again and they missed having a Spartan,” she said. “We felt like that would bring a lot of energy and it’s something that we’ve been missing.”

Wanting to bring spirit to the school and community, Leo asked to be part of the Murray parade, but didn’t expect a costume malfunction which resulted in missing the last third of walking in the parade. However, the Spartan has asked others to generate ideas and appearances, watched YouTube videos of other mascots and plans to reach out to college and professional team mascots.

The mascot agreed to break his code of silence for this article to share his insights; the condition was that he could only be identified as Leo.

“I always thought of being the mascot; it’s cool,” Leo said. “I think my personality is already outgoing and wacky and I feel that if I’d have a mask on, I feel I’d be amplified and make it fun for everyone. Before this, I’ve just liked being in the student section. I was always one of the people who just tried to get cheers going or if cheerleaders were doing a cheer, I would just start doing the dance with them.”

While he hopes to “go to as many things as possible,” Leo said one of his responsibilities will be to wave a giant Spartan flag, which Leo said, “I will definitely have a lot of fun with.”

He also knows being the mascot will be “physically demanding” so he does plan to stay in shape through running and joining cheer in some workouts.

Leo isn’t worried about getting recognition. 

“If no one knows me, I can do a lot more wacky stuff that I would be otherwise embarrassed to do. It’s just one of those things I could have a lot more fun,” he said. 

That also was a highlight of Aaron Dekeyzer, who as 2003-04 senior class pride president, was Harvey, Hillcrest High School’s Husky mascot.

“It just let me take on a persona that I could just be silly and fun to the max without any discomfort about doing it and having nobody know who it was,” he said, but admitting that the costume was “miserably hot, itchy and just generally uncomfortable.”

However, Dekeyzer’s secret mascot identity was short-lived as students knocked off his head at one of the last football games, so he only wore the costume at a couple of basketball games.

Dekeyzer didn’t audition, but said the position fell into his lap.

“I think there was a vacancy and cheer was looking for someone to do it when they came to student government. I was one of the silliest, funniest ones of the bunch so I decided to volunteer,” he said. “I was energetic, fun, goofy and good at getting the crowd to do chants. I wasn’t flying through the air or doing backflips.”

The Husky has evolved from its early days when a cheerleader had dog face paint while wearing a shaggy costume to taking on a full mascot costume in 1978-79 when former teacher and international baccalaureate coordinator Brian Bentley, who was a student at Hillcrest, first took on the role of Harvey. Nowadays, the student costume-wearers are highlighted in the yearbook, which is distributed at the end of the year. 

After Dekeyzer’s year, the mascot costume went missing—he maintains he didn’t take it—so Harvey took a leave of absence.

“I don’t know if they found it or if it was just time to get another costume, but it was my understanding that he was MIA for a bit,” he said. “It was super fun though. I really enjoyed doing it and it was a great way to demonstrate the pride of the school and for students to identify with the spirit of the school.”