Why community colleges want live mascots

 
 
Updated 5/16/2016 9:47 AM
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  • Lance, the College of Lake County's new mascot, runs the bases between innings during a recent baseball game against Elgin Community College.

      Lance, the College of Lake County's new mascot, runs the bases between innings during a recent baseball game against Elgin Community College. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Lance, the College of Lake County's new mascot, jokes around with 21-year-old Shayna Friedman of Mundelein during a baseball game against Elgin Community College.

      Lance, the College of Lake County's new mascot, jokes around with 21-year-old Shayna Friedman of Mundelein during a baseball game against Elgin Community College. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Lance, the College of Lake County's new mascot, cheers on his team from the dugout during a baseball game against Elgin Community College.

      Lance, the College of Lake County's new mascot, cheers on his team from the dugout during a baseball game against Elgin Community College. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Lance, the College of Lake County's new mascot, hams it up for the camera during a baseball game against Elgin Community College.

      Lance, the College of Lake County's new mascot, hams it up for the camera during a baseball game against Elgin Community College. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Elgin Community College mascot Spartacat.

    Elgin Community College mascot Spartacat. Courtesy of Elgin Community College

  • Harper College's Hawk mascot meets students during the Hullabaloo kickoff event last fall.

    Harper College's Hawk mascot meets students during the Hullabaloo kickoff event last fall. Courtesy of Harper College

  • College of DuPage mascot Chappy with a chaparral statue on campus.

    College of DuPage mascot Chappy with a chaparral statue on campus. Courtesy of College of DuPage

Chappy and Spartacat have some new competitors on the suburban community college mascot scene.

Grayslake-based College of Lake County's Lancer debuted late first semester and will perform for an entire academic season when the fall semester starts for 2016-17. At Harper College in Palatine, the mascot representing the Hawks is wrapping up its first year on a campus. Neither college had a live mascot until now.

CLC Athletic Director Nic Scandrett, who is in charge of the mascot named "Lance," said some heads turned recently while he a drove a golf cart across campus with the mounted soldier armed with a lance for a recent baseball game against Elgin Community College.

"It definitely brings a smile to everybody," Scandrett said. "And that's what we want, just to bring that camaraderie on campus and then obviously draw attention for off-campus (activities). It really enhances the student experience and the image of the college, I think."

Building school spirit, boosting community outreach efforts and adding entertainment value to athletic and other events are among the reasons to have a live mascot, community college officials say.

While mascots played by students are common at four-year universities, they are hit and miss at the local two-year colleges.

Neither the Oakton Community College Owls in Des Plaines nor the McHenry County College Scots in Crystal Lake has a mascot based on the school nickname. However, the Elgin Community College Spartans have had Spartacat since 1999, and the College of DuPage Chaparrals in Glen Ellyn debuted Chappy in 2011.

COD spokesman Joe Moore said the Chaparrals nickname reflects the school's beginning in 1967. Students became known as roadrunners, the common name for a chaparral, because they had to scurry or drive between makeshift buildings for classes.

"Chappy adds to school spirit and pride," Moore said. "Before we brought Chappy to the forefront, a large number of our students didn't know we had a (nickname), let alone what a chaparral was. We have used the chaparral logo on everything, including the T-shirts we give out at new student orientation. We also explain the origin of the chaparral as our logo at orientation so students appreciate our history."

Spartacat was introduced as ECC's first live mascot to coincide with the school's 50th anniversary. Spartacat is a combination of the school's Spartans logo and a cuddly cartoon character.

ECC spokeswoman Toya Webb said Spartacat generally makes appearances at the new student convocation, spirit night athletic contests, Project Backpack, Campus Jam and more.

"He is received very well, and kids love giving him hugs and high-fives," Webb said. "So do students."

CLC and Harper have been using the new mascots in a variety of ways.

Keith O'Neill, who oversees the Hawk mascot in his role as associate dean of student affairs at Harper, said the character has been popular since starting in spring 2015. The mascot's itinerary has included traveling to elementary schools, performing at Harper athletic events and working the Hullabaloo gathering with student clubs and organizations that kicked off the 2015-16 fall semester.

"Students, staff, faculty, alumni and community friends love high-fiving and posing for pictures with the Hawk, who is just one more version of Harper personified in a feathery and fun way," O'Neill said. "We hope it will become a much-loved tradition."

O'Neill said a campuswide contest will be held in the upcoming academic year to give the Hawk a name.

Although the crowd was sparse at the recent CLC baseball game in Grayslake against ECC, Lance's routines on and off the field spiced up the contest. He's already made a positive first impression with some CLC students.

"I like him," said Shayna Friedman, 21, a sophomore from Mundelein, who found Lance's arm around her during the game. "I think it'll bring more spirit to the athletics here. It'll be nice to have him at the games."

Miranda Evjen, a former marketing manager at Central New Mexico Community College in Albuquerque, wrote a highly referenced 2012 article about how to create a school mascot in the National Council for Marketing and Public Relations' magazine Counsel. CLC officials referred to Evjen's tips in the community college trade publication while creating Lance.

Evjen, now senior marketing manager at Heritage Hotels and Resorts in New Mexico, said community colleges looking to foster a more inviting campus atmosphere would tend to want a mascot.

She led the creation and introduction of Sol the Suncat about five years ago at Central New Mexico.

"One of the main reasons why we even created Sol was because they wanted the college to be more of a place for people to spend time," she said.

"They wanted to really instill some college pride into the students. And the logo at the time was basically like a triangle with a pencil. People don't get super excited about wearing a triangle or a pencil, but they can get behind something that's a little more fun."

Evjen's mascot creation tips include the need for a community college to establish a budget for an outfit, to detail where the character will appear and to form a handbook for procedures. Community college mascots also should follow the credo of not talking or having their identities become known.

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