The mascots go for the gold Auditions: The Wizards need a new mascot, and some guys will do anything for the job.

September 24, 1997|By M. Dion Thompson | M. Dion Thompson,SUN STAFF

You think you want to be a professional mascot? You think you could be the next San Diego Chicken, the next Phoenix Gorilla, the next Philly Phanatic? Well, you'll have to get past Rob, 26, who came all the way from San Antonio, Texas, to plead his case before the people who will choose the next mascots for Washington's pro sports teams.

Rob has mascot fever.

"I love it," he tells interviewers for the Washington Wizards and Washington Capitals at the Hampton Inn in Landover. "I absolutely love it. I sort of feel like it's my calling."

Rob knows the Coyote, the San Antonio Spurs' mascot. He has been the off-site Shamu for Sea World. He played a bear for a local ice cream shop. His anecdotes about the mascot life tumble out in a nervous rush.

"Seriously, I'm made for this. I'll do whatever you ask me to do," he tells the panel of four judges. Then he catches himself. "I'm talking way too much."

The interview, along with a one-minute improv and one minute in the costume of Booster, the old Houston Rockets mascot, is Day One of tryouts this week. A dozen guys are here. Brad from Ottawa; Todd from Chicago; Brett, who used to be the Mariner Moose in Seattle and, before that, a mascot for the minor-league Carolina Mudcats. To protect the identity of the eventual winner, the guys at the tryout only gave their first names.

Washington Sports and Entertainment received plenty of phone calls when the National Hockey League's Capitals and the National Basketball Association's Wizards announced their need for new mascots, says J. Reed Laughlin, a company executive. Most were from wannabes, folks who probably figured being a mascot involved nothing more than climbing inside a funny, bulky suit, shaking your money maker with a little zest and humor, and doing the YMCA move whenever the Village People song comes on. Those folks were dismissed without a second thought.

About 30 to 40 serious applications came in. The dozen who were invited to the two-day tryout will be cut down to three finalists, with a final choice due perhaps by the end of the week. The interviewers won't reveal the salary, but a pro mascot can earn anywhere from $100 a game to a couple hundred thousand a year.

"We don't want to just create an NBA mascot," says Laughlin. "We want to create a mascot that will be known."

The final design for the Wizards' mascot will only be completed once the best candidate is found; the cost of the costume alone, it's said, will be "more than a Lexus."

What it takes

So, what does it take to fire up 15,000 sports maniacs to the point where they're all yelling, "Whoot, there it is! Whoot, there it is!" Brad, formerly Spartacat for hockey's Ottawa Senators and Rodney the Raven for Carleton University, handed out a sheet with 15 tenets of the mascot.

First and foremost, he says, have fun. You also have to be an ambassador.

"You got to be professional, no matter what happens," he says. "Some kid throws up on you. You brush it off. It's not personal. Somebody hits you, it's not personal."

You have to temper your act to the fan, the crowd, the seat location. A bunch of drunken rowdies in the cheap seats might get too involved, might forget the mascot's joshing is just in fun. Next thing you know, you're sporting a black eye. Just ask the Oriole Bird. The folks in the $50 seats are a different breed.

"You go to the lower level. Some of those people don't want to be messed with by a mascot," says Steve, 23. "The kids are gonna love you, no matter what, just because you have a fuzzy costume. The adults are the ones who are really hard."

For two years, Steve was Youdee "The Fighting Blue Hen" of the University of Delaware. Last year he was Hoops for the Washington Bullets. But the team has since changed its name to Wizards, and now he's fighting for a job.

Steve seemed caught off-guard when asked to dance without the costume. The costume is the hiding place. It's where the alter ego takes over.

"I've never had anyone tell me to do it without a costume," he says. "When I put that costume on, I become a different person. You almost feel like you have amazing powers."

You can leap, jump, dunk a basketball. You can get in somebody's face. But it's not you. It's that crazy figure, that acrobatic clown, that lightning rod for the fans.

During Day One, there's a mad one-minute skit. The panel wants to see something comedic, something offbeat. They want to see how you dance in costume. Time and time again, the would-be mascots turned on Eric Hernandez, a 21-year-old intern from George Mason University, who became their foil. He was kissed, offered flowers, squired around an imaginary dance floor.

Chris, the last applicant considered on the first day, considers himself an athlete, and being a mascot is his passion. His advice for all prospective mascots is take some theater classes and watch cartoons.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.