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Suited To Win

09/16/2016 07:00AM ● Published by Robert Frey

Gallery: Local Mascots [8 Images] Click any image to expand.

By Amanda Jean Elliot

When I was in college my friend dated the mascot. That was when I realized what it took to wear the suit. At the end of the games he was as spent as a player. Hours in the heat wearing an often heavy suit. Full of high energy. It was no joke. 

The mascots of our schools are far more than a person in a suit. They are there before that person inside the suit arrives on campus and after they graduate. They are splattered on T-shirts and school signs. They are the symbol alumni carry with them long after the last bell rings. I’ll always be a Ragin’ Cajun or a Yellow Jacket or a Panda or a Panther, students long gone still say.

As school kicks off, we look at those age-old symbols of our schools, our athletic teams and those characters that embody what it means to be a part of a student body.

Jack –New Iberia Senior High 

At New Iberia Senior High School that means being a yellow jacket.

“It has a special meaning to be a yellow jacket,” says NISH athletic director Jim Picheloup. “After you leave, it has a special meaning to come back and our mascots promote that school spirit to the students coming in for the first time.”

It’s something Picheloup knows well. He graduated from NISH as did the school’s now principal. They are yellow jackets for life. 

“This year, his name is Jack and he has a new uniform,” Picheloup says.

For the 2016-17 school year, two people are going to share the time in the suit because of the high temperatures at many games and the challenge to keep energy high for the duration. “We have two people because it tends to get hot and they get tired,” he says. “However this suit does have a built-in fan in the headgear and the bodysuit is lightweight.”

Picheloup says the pro-style new suit looks like something the pro teams’ mascots wear. The new suit was made possible by the Class of 2016. “They made a donation toward the mascot uniform and that’s why his jersey is going to be number 16 while he’s at the games.” 

But, Jack isn’t limited to games. He can be seen at all manner of events and is on every piece of spirit merchandise. “The mascot will come out during pep rallies and football and basketball games. Jack entertains with skits and generates enthusiasm and cheers with the cheerleaders. He meets with the other mascots and welcomes them over and the same thing happens at away games where they meet each other.”

The mascot only uses hand gestures and never speaks a word. And while there are two people ready to don the suit, there are others that join the fray at times.

“Sometimes we’ll ask special guests or alumni to be the mascot and some ask us if they can do it,” Picheloup says. “It’s pretty neat.”

Edward – St. Edward School 

While mascots like Jack are geared much toward athletics, he and others like him are also promoting general school spirit. There is nowhere that is more evident than at St. Edward School.

“Our mascot is used on the first day of school, at various school events, in the Sugar Cane Festival Parade, at a special CHS football game that is ‘feeder school night,’” says St. Edward Principal Karen Bonin.

St. Edward is only through third grade, but that doesn’t make their mascot — Edward the Panda — any less a part of the school culture.

“Our school goes up to third grade, so we don’t have athletics or teams, but we sure love Edward the Panda,” Bonin says adding that the mascot bring joy and spirit to their campus. “Edward is a great asset to our school!  He seems to evoke a feeling of joy, warmth and love, which is perfect for a Catholic school that serves 3 to 9 year olds. He spreads school spirit by embodying who we are and how we strive to serve our children.”

Bonin says wherever Edward arrives ... smiles are soon to follow. “It’s amazing that no matter where he is, be it a school activity like Race for Education, or a community event such as the Sugar Cane Festival Children’s Parade, nearly everyone’s immediate inclination is to smile and give him a big hug or high five — children and adults alike.  You just can’t help it.”

Edward’s suit, like most other mascot suits is a hefty thing, especially on warm Louisiana days. Yet, they are never short on people ready to rock the suit for the kids of St. Edward.

“Even though the suit is terribly hot and heavy, we have a line of people wanting to be Edward!” Bonin exclaims. “We even have our long-time regular, Tony Piontek, whose email address begins with ‘pandaguy.’  Those who’ve had a chance to transform into his character as the outfit is pulled on know how magical it can be to experience people’s reactions when they see him and how priceless their expressions are.”

The Panther – Catholic High School 

At Catholic High the symbol of their school pride, off and on the field, came on the scene in 1918 — the Panther.

“The panther was the original mascot of the all boys school St. Peter’s College (which today is Catholic High).  Once Mt. Carmel and St. Peter’s merged, Catholic High maintained the panther as the school’s mascot,” says Erin F. Robison

Student Activities Director at Catholic.

“The panther stands for each and every individual. For our athletics, we believe the panther stands for the fight that we bring with us. Whether favorites to underdogs one thing CHS will always do is fight to the end,” he says.

But, it’s not just on the field that the panthers take their pride.

“For our academics, our motto is Acta Non Verba (actions not words) and we believe the panther stands for just that,” he says. “You do not have to watch the panther fight or run to know he’s a fierce animal and courageous animal, he shows us this just by his actions. And the hope is our students’ actions exemplify all that we teach them and what we stand for at CHS. We hope the panther is our biggest cheerleader, getting the crowds riled up at pep rallies to helping our school to another victory at home games. Like any mascot it is the face that stands for us all and it is the energy we wish to display.”

Cayenne – UL 

Mascots, while often in the form of animals, also come in other ways like the embodiment of UL for years — Cayenne. Where else in the country would a spirit leader be a pepper? But, the most interesting thing about choosing a veggie as your symbol just may be the history. While the pepper for UL is now emblazoned on nearly every piece of merchandise, the team wasn’t always so “spicy.” In fact, they were long named the bulldogs.

“For the first 60 years through three name changes, the university kept the nickname of the Bulldogs.  This mascot was identified by an actual bulldog that would lead the team onto the field before most of the football games,” according to UL’s website.

So, when did our beloved local team go from the bulldogs to their one-of-a-kind moniker of the Ragin’ Cajuns? It was in the 1960s and the coach at the time — Russ Faulkinberry — called his football team the Raging Cajuns to fire them up since 95 percent of them were from the Acadiana area. It wouldn’t be long before Bob Henderson, the UL Sports Information Director, would jump on board. And by 1962 the name for the UL teams was officially changed from the Bulldogs to the Raging Cajuns. Soon the name was shortened to Ragin’ Cajuns and today they are fired up as ever while honoring those bulldog roots. For several years the bulldog animal itself remained, which could be seen with the pup still taking to the football field to protect his territory.

After the bulldog and before the pepper, the spirit leader was the Cajun Man, who fired up the crowd. But, Cajun Man was no more after he graduated and so the university began to look for a new face to represent the unique team. Soon arrived the chicken.

Legend has it that Cajun Chicken showed up on the doorsteps of the sports complex to add a new experience to the game.

“Not only did he add to the excitement that is Ragin’ Cajuns athletics, he was also quite entertaining and could cause a stir,” according to the UL site. “With the spirit of Elvis Presley, the talent of Michael Jackson and the darkness of the Grim Reaper, no fan would ever know what the Cajun Chicken would do next.”

For years the chicken could be seen at games, but the university continued to look for a better representation of the name, which they eventually found in the pepper that was placed inside UL’s new logos as the apostrophe for the Ragin’ Cajuns. Today, few pieces of UL don’t contain the beloved pepper or the fleur de lis. 

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