Phil Clopton ’08 credits his victory in last week’s Mr. Yale competition to three things: comic books, trashy movies and video games.
When asked by one of the judges what he would do as commander of the Yale army if a battalion of Harvard students descended on New Haven, Clopton knew exactly what to say. He would have launched a preemptive attack to prevent the army from getting to New Haven in the first place.
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“The way I handled that last question, my knowledge of the three was all I needed,” Clopton said.
Students in the audience said Clopton’s answer to the question, which had the crowd chanting “For God, for Country and for Yale,” was a particularly impressive display of Yale patriotism.
But while comic books and trashy movies may have helped Clopton cement his triumph, his performance throughout the rest of the competition showcased a variety of talents — from cheerleading to an impeccable taste in fashion. Friends said the Florida native is disarmingly humble and friendly, despite his Mr. T haircut and muscular physique.
The competition, which took place Thursday night at Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall, pitted representatives from each of the 12 colleges against each other in a dance segment, a formal wear contest and a talent competition.
Contestants answered questions like: What kind of cocktail would you be and why?
Those interviewed said Clopton, who said he would be a Tequila Sunrise, is loyal to his college, Morse, and saw the competition not simply as a chance to boost his profile but also as an opportunity for Morse to have a moment in the spotlight.
“Everyone knows about Morse’s spirit being the best of all of the colleges’,” Clopton said. “This year we decided we were going to sweep everything. I just wanted to help make that happen.”
Kristia Wantchekon ’11, who has Clopton as a freshman counselor, said a Mr. Yale candidate could have made the competition about himself, but self-promotion is not Clopton’s style.
“He took it seriously and didn’t just cop out,” she said. “It seemed that unlike some of the competitors, he understood that Yale is about being polished and not about being naked.”
Clopton’s selection in the fashion component of the contest was particularly popular with many of the attendees interviewed. Although he initially wanted to wear a tuxedo thong, he said, he was surprised to find he could not find one in any New Haven store. Instead, he opted for tuxedo pants, jacket and a red bow tie — no shirt was necessary.
The three judges of the competition — Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry, star running back for the football team Mike McLeod ’09 and Rachelle Alpern ’09, dressed in costume as the Yale mascot — graded contestants on a 10-point scale, although the scores were not revealed to either contestants or the audience. After the talent competition, half the field was cut, leaving the six Mr. Yale hopefuls with the highest individual scores.
Clopton, one of two male cheerleaders for the Yale squad, performed a sequence of cheerleading stunts including an aerial, a pike and a toe touch. To finish, he pulled an “unsuspecting girl” out of the audience, tossed her in the air and bench-pressed her up above his head.
The girl, Laura Beavers ’10, is in her first year as a member the Yale Cheerleading Team and is one of Clopton’s cheer partners.
“Phil usually throws me up [at games], and it is always comforting to know he is waiting to catch me,” she said.
While Clopton attributed his advancement past the early rounds of the competition to “random luckiness,” his friend Minh Tran ’09, who serves with Clopton on the Morse College Council, disagreed.
“Unlike some of the other candidates, his talent was a true talent,” he said.
Alpern said Clopton pulled ahead of the competition after the eliminations. The subsequent events were less about how well the competitor had prepared and more about how well the competitor could think and speak under pressure, she added.
After answering a few dating-game style questions — including one that required him to act out his favorite sexual position — Clopton made his “comic book” speech in response to the final prompt.
“First of all, there is no way I would let Harvard even get close to New Haven,” Clopton said. “I would launch a preemptive attack. Harvard thinks they’re better because they’re the oldest college in the Ivy League. But that just means that their buildings are older and will fall over that much easier.”
Even if Clopton’s answer was slightly tongue-in-cheek, judges and attendees said they thought his message of Yale pride was very sincere.
“His answers were the only ones to really involve the entire crowd, and as a speaker that’s quite an accomplishment,” Tran said.
Both friends and attendees interviewed said they think Clopton’s performance represented what a modern Yale man should be. Tran, who serves alongside Clopton on the Morse College Council, said the Mr. Yale winner never complains about the “tedious work” of preparing for and cleaning up from MCC events.
A psychology major, Clopton hopes to join Teach for America after his Yale career is complete. For now, he is dividing his energy among cheerleading, working as a freshman counselor and serving on the MCC.
Beavers said she experienced Clopton’s “sweetness” when she received a Facebook message from Clopton right after the competition finished. It read: “You. Are. My. HERO!!” A few hours later Beaver posted on Clopton’s wall: “no. no. you are MY hero, Mr. Yale.”
And Clopton followed up on his interview with the News with an e-mail that listed people he would like to thank for his victory.
“I would like to thank my friends, my freshmen, and the cheerleading squad for their support and attendance, but especially Laura Beavers without whom my talent would have been quite boring,” he said.
Clopton said he is unsure where his newfound campus fame will take him. For now he said he is just satisfied that Morse is in first place in the Social Cup, thanks in part to his Mr. Yale triumph. Next he will strive to secure the Tyng Cup for Morse, as an intramurals participant in “everything.”
And of course, Clopton will continue to make time for reading Hitman and watching Rocky IV, he said — activities that he credits with snagging him the Mr. Yale title.
“Everyone always told me that doing these things would never help me,” Clopton said. “But they did. I guess I proved them wrong.”