Five students have big shoes to fill as they suit up before game day as one of the most recognizable faces on campus – the University’s George mascot.
The Mascot Team is a group of five male students who are paid minimum wage as part of GW’s spirit program to represent the University and hype up the crowd at athletic games and events. Studying everything from applied mathematics to political science, these students enjoy the “hilarious stunts” they get to perform once their identity is concealed by an oversized head with a furrowed brow and a giant tricorne hat.
The group requested to remain anonymous because the anonymity “adds to the flair of the position,” one mascot said. Though a few friends and their families back home know they’re the men behind the costume, they remain anonymous to keep the ability to try new tricks to motivate the crowd without fear of recognition or embarrassment if it goes awry.
One senior majoring in economics and applied mathematics said he was neighbors with members of the First Ladies dance team junior year and heard about the position through them. He has had the opportunity to meet celebrities who come to campus and appear on commercials and national television in the suit, the senior mascot said.
“It’s hilarious, it’s unprecedented access to things,” he said. “The perk of it is you really get to have as much fun as you possibly can and you get to know that wherever you’re going, someone is going to be entertained by what you do.”
Basketball season is the busiest time of the year for the mascots, as they have up to four times as many events per week, compared to the rest of the year. That means the students perform at up to 12 games per month, including traveling with the team to away games.
The senior said his most memorable moment in the George costume was at last year’s men’s basketball game against St. Louis in March, where the team came back from behind after the opposing team led for more than 36 minutes of play. After a disappointing first half, the crowd gained energy and was brought to their feet as the Colonials won the game to advance to the A-10 quarterfinal.
“I was just running up and down the court, jumping up and down with everybody else,” he said. “When you’re metaphorically leading a tidal wave of joy or enthusiasm, there is no better feeling.”
He said when he first started the job junior year, it was just two students and Kate Southall – the assistant director of marketing and promotions who leads the Mascot Team – attending games, but the group has gotten more competitive as interest in the position has grown.
“I applied for it at a time where the George program was very, very small,” he said. “We have a lot more interest in becoming George and we’re trying to do a lot more things with George on campus.”
Another George, a junior majoring in political science, said he applied for the position because he thought it would be an extension of his previous performing arts experience. He said as George he has gotten to do “crazy” things that seem surreal, like storm the court when the men’s basketball team upset Virginia – the No. 6 team in the country – two seasons ago. But the job has cons, he said.
“The worst part is when it’s a busy time and we only have like two suits and someone else has used the suit the day before,” he said. “Then you are in a terrible, sweaty, moist, smelly suit.”
Once they are in costume, the Georges interact with fans, take photos and perform on the sidelines and during halftimes of various sports games. In addition to the athletic events, they appear at alumni events, Colonial Inauguration sessions and at high schools around the District when GW surprises students with the Stephen Joel Trachtenberg scholarship each year.
The student mascots said even though they can’t speak with the fans because they must remain anonymous – and they frankly can’t be heard through the giant foam George head – they have to be able to socialize with fans and make the crowd feel involved.
A third student who plays George, a sophomore studying finance and political science, said while his role is to hype up the fan base, he’s caused a few tears on the job as well.
“Lots of little children are terrified of George and it feels awful when you make a small child cry,” he said. “I think in the last year I’ve made seven children cry – at least.”