If you’ve ever attended a high school, college, or professional sporting event, chances are you encountered a mascot. While mascots play an iconic role in the modern athletic experience, the foundational concept underlying the mascot has existed since prehistoric times. Archaeological evidence suggests that cavemen performed sacred dances while sporting animal masks to appease their deities and make requests for good fortune. It was only a matter of time before sports teams adopted the idea of a lucky animal!

While some schools or teams prefer the natural aesthetic of a live animal filling role of mascot, others enjoy the zany performance of a person concealed in an elaborate costume. The earliest animalian mascots first appeared on college campuses; these pioneering personalities took the form of domestic critters with Yale being the very first university to appoint a live mascot. Their mascot, a bulldog named Handsome Dan, assumed the role of mascot in 1889, a tradition that continues into contemporary times with Yale selecting 17 subsequent bulldogs to represent their school.

Although 33 American colleges continue to represent their athletic teams with live animals, animal rights groups actively protest the use of pet mascots. To avoid ethical controversy, many colleges opt to employ a costumed mascot. These skilled performers are typically students selected from the student body to personify their school’s mascot. Although many of these students don costumes designed to resemble an intimidating animal, human icons such as gladiators, knights, and cowboys are sometimes utilized as costume models for student mascots. Students portraying collegiate mascots often receive scholarships for their performances and are required to disguise their identity as mascot in order to create the idea of an autonomous school mascot.

Colleges dominated the use of mascots until the 1960s when professional sports teams adopted the practice. The first professional team to create a mascot was the New York Mets. Their mascot, an anthropomorphic baseball named Mr. Met, sparked mascot madness throughout the pro sports world, resulting in the establishment of a number of iconic characters that continue to represent well-known teams in contemporary sporting events.

All human mascots, whether performing at high school, collegiate, or professional games, fill physically taxing positions. Costumes are often conducive to overheating, and mascots are expected to be cheering or interacting with fans throughout the entire event. To better equip hopeful mascots with the skills needed to successfully execute their performances, multiple mascot-centered vocational schools have been established. One such school in San Antonio, Texas, offers mascots a training program for the low fee of $250 per academic cycle.

While mascots are best known for their celebrated pedestal in athletic teams, a surprisingly varied field of organizations also employ mascots to represent their respective causes. Case in point: NASA’s somewhat obscure mascot, Camilla Corona the rubber chicken. Camilla was a gift to the administration from a group of high school scholars. Since her adoption, she has ventured to space several times and serves as an active ambassador for STEM programs. Military divisions also enjoy the novelty of mascots as the Norwegian Royal Guard keeps a king penguin named Nils Olav to represent their troops.

No matter their species, origin, or position, all mascots endeavor to achieve an essential set of goals within their various settings. By cultivating morale and unifying diverse groups of people under a common cause, mascots make an impact that cannot be contained within the walls of a stadium.

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