Yale closed its mascot search this weekend after about an hour of tryouts in Payne Whitney Gym.
The winners? Three dancing Dans — and me.
In the spirit of “Never Been Kissed”-inspired undercover journalism — and my own school spirit — I decided to try out for the part while bringing the Yale Daily News behind the scenes.
With a Facebook event to publicize the audition, I expected a crowd, or, at least, a scene. I was afraid that, this being Yale, I would find 50 sports addicts vying for their dream job. In my mind, there was even an applicant who brought his own bulldog suit.
But upon entering the gym at noon, I was slightly comforted by the quiet post-brunch athletes on their way to the workout room. Signs of a bulldog silhouette with a question mark emblazoned on his chest pointed the way to the auditions. Turning right, I entered the empty basketball courts and was greeted by Yale Athletics Marketing representatives, including marketing intern Robert Coppola leading the headhunt.
“The snow has slowed us down,” he said. “You’re the only one here so far.”
Anticlimax. I was led to the pressroom, where pizza and drinks awaited. A few minutes passed until three other potential-mascots joined me.
By now, the nervousness had given way to a relaxed exuberance — we were, after all, major fans. The other contestants — Kate Bowden ’10, Noah McColl ’10 and Nina Beizer ’12 — were all visibly excited. There was a short debate over which of last weekend’s hockey matches proved the greater tragedy. We were all able to list the Bulldog’s latest victories. In short, we had school spirit.
Later in an e-mail to the News, Beizer wrote that she had “always been a little bit of a ham,” adding that “the idea of dressing up in a giant animal costume has always really appealed to me.”
After snacks and small talk, Coppola interrupted us to introduce the costumes. We were led to the men’s basketball team’s locker room, where lay three body suits: a friendly looking lion, a bear reminiscent of Winnie the Pooh and a furry creature somewhere between a cougar, a wolf and a hyena.
The four of us drew lots, and within minutes we were suited up, our heads oddly poking out of the baggy fur of our costumes. I was the bear.
We had all passed the first test — fitting in the suits — but we also discovered the first obstacle: We could not see anything once we put the hoods over our heads. What a problem for our next task of dancing and general crowd-pleasing.
I wished for a packed gym full of screaming fans. Instead, we had a few sports publicity fellows and New Haven residents as the audience. The local families, who were invited for a meet-and-greet with the mascots, included several young girls already bobbing in the stands. But I could barely hear the music sounding from Coppola’s laptop – my ears were covered with too much fuzz.
Blindly leaping about the basketball court, I tried to reenact the struts and shakes that I had so earnestly practiced. One 9-year-old girl, at least, found my bumbling energizing — she leaped out of the stands and started to dance with me.
With such encouragement, I gave a series of final high-fives to the judges, and bolted out of the room. Those costumes get hot.
Back in the locker room, the other contestants were getting ready for their turn as I hydrated for my second challenge. Taking turns by the mirror, we shared poses, tripped over dry cleaner bags and struggled to keep our hands in the oversized paws. At this moment, it hit me — this was fun.
“It’s a hysterical but fun job,” Bowden later told the News. “The camaraderie is great.”
We had license to act ridiculous. We got away with being awkward. We were, in essence, playing like kids..
And then we actually played with real kids. The second challenge was to entertain and interact with a group of local children and their parents in the pressroom. Instructed to communicate non-verbally, we galloped and jumped around the room, throwing high-fives and giving hugs for a few whirling minutes.
“The bear! The bear!” I overheard one child scream with excitement. “No, the lion!”
But in the end, we are bulldogs. And all four of us were selected to join Handsome Dan as new mascots.
Looking back, Bowden said she was excited about the bonding experience of the auditions. Yet, she said, she felt disappointed by the lack of turnout for the job.
“It may say something about school spirit,” she said. “However, in the long run it will be a sweet thing that having secured this position, we can galvanize the student body to come out to games.”
The final challenge is tonight. Come see us perform at the men’s basketball game against Brown in the new mascot costume. We might even crowd-surf.