GW doesn’t mess around in the mascot department. While other schools are willing to settle for one guy in a felt suit scurrying around in front of spectators, the Colonials have three mascots revving up the crowd at every home game.
Being a mascot is not unlike being a super hero: you wear a costume and have a secret identity and a great fan following.
Senior Bill Jones* can attest to that. He’s been Big George for four years now, a role that even surprises him sometimes.
“I never once thought, coming out of high school, that I’d end up doing this,” said Jones.
It’s a wonder he didn’t see it coming, though. After all, being a mascot is in his blood.
“My father was a mascot in college … They were really proud when I told them,” Jones said of his family’s reaction to his following in his father’s footsteps.
Big George, who is not really George Washington, but “the Colonials’ No. 1 fan,” according to Jones, is one of GW’s two inflatable characters, the other being the hippo. Such figures are a relatively new trend in the mascot world. The wearable balloons cost $10,000 each and are kept inflated by a miniature leaf blower. They can be deflated, stretched and manipulated in a way that traditional cloth suits cannot.
This allows for different kinds of stunts, such as Big George losing his head, which is achieved by deflating part of the suit. But this maneuver presents special challenges.
“My first game I was in the hippo suit … As I was walking under the bleachers (with the suit deflated) the suit got caught, and I thought, ‘This is how I’m going to die, stuck under one of the bleachers,'” said Jones, who remained stuck under the stands for much of the game, until one of his fellow mascots freed him.
The other downside to Big George is that while the costume is more spacious, it can also be more physically demanding for the person inside.
“At first it took a really big toll on my back … The battery for Big George weighs, like, 10 pounds. Plus there’s the leaf blower,” said Jones.
But despite all the inconvenience Big George poses, Jones still prefers this character to George, a smaller, more traditional costume. Jones dislikes the little guy because it gets so warm inside the suit.
Jason Smith disagrees, however, returning for his second year in the George suit. Smith is the Student Coordinator for Spirit Programs, a position Jones held last year, assisting with new mascot tryouts and scheduling and acting as a sort of unofficial team leader for the group of five students who perform as mascots during home games and special appearances.
Smith became a mascot after talking to the cheerleaders at a student involvement fair and realizing that at 155 pounds he probably wouldn’t “make it as a cheerleader.” So the squad asked him, “How about mascot?” Smith accepted.
Smith was the only person to try out for the team last fall and ended up making the squad by default. He has become such a prominent part of the mascot program that this year he will be auditioning to represent GW at the national mascot competition in Orlando, Fla., this spring. If GW is selected to compete it will be the University’s first appearance at the annual competition.
To audition, Smith must make a 90 second unedited tape of himself performing a silent skit in costume. If selected for the finals competition, he would then have to perform the skit live.
To prepare, Smith attended a three-day spirit boot camp along with the GW Cheerleaders in an effort to better learn the art of pumping up an audience. The camp focused on pantomime techniques and skit writing.
The GW mascots write their own skits for each home game. Only two mascots perform at each game, although three appear at important rivalry games, and they usually get to make only one appearance, typically during the second timeout of the second half. With such limited playtime, every skit is important.
“Ideas always sound better on paper,” said Jones. “If we get any kind of reaction (from a skit) we’re happy.”
Smith had definite ideas about what separates a lame skit from one that gets the crowd on their feet.
“The main thing about being a mascot is being creative. You need a lot of enthusiasm and big gestures. You need a lot of props and they gotta be big,” Smith said. “Something involving violence, oddly enough, usually does the trick.”
Short skits range from holiday themes to parodies of Nike commercials. Longer skits tell stories, like George’s perilous search for employment. All the sketches are done in pantomime, which can make some of the more complicated plots difficult to enact. When a skit doesn’t go over well with the fans, it can be demoralizing for the mascot crew.
“It’s kinda like playing charades and nobody gets it,” Smith said.
And while the mascots are given a $4,500-per-year talent scholarship for all their efforts, the crowd reaction is really what they’re looking for. Both Jones and Smith said they weren’t aware of the scholarship before trying out; the lure of being a mascot has more to do with the thrill of performing in front of a crowd.
“I just really have a lot of school spirit and that’s what drives me. You want the fans out of their seats, no matter what,” Smith said.
Aside from games, mascots perform at University functions on and off campus. GW pays them by appearance, but this year all the money, instead of going back into the program or directly to the student performers, will cover the transportation costs of sending Smith to Florida.
These appearances can be fun, but Jones said sometimes the fans can get a little overzealous.
“Some people forget there’s a guy in the suit. They’ll roughhouse and play but then they take it too far,” he said. “One trick is to remember that you’ve got a 10-pound battery strapped to you (inside the Big George Suit), so if you lean to the left and they hit that, then they’ll think twice about punching you again.”
A lot of people have trouble reconciling the men in the suits to the characters they play on game day.
“My parents, instead of carrying around a picture of me, carry a picture of George,” Smith noted.
“A lot of my friends are terrified of Big George,” said Jones, adding that most of his friends know he’s a mascot but that he prefers to limit the number of people who know his secret.
“It would kind of ruin the mystique,” agrees Smith.
Even though most GW students have no idea who they are, the mascot squad is at every home game, win or lose, and even if they don’t say a word, they cheer hardest of all.
* Names of students who perform as mascots have been changed to
conceal their true identities.