Being Sparty is… Cool?
Aaron J. Pellot
On September 19, 2013, USC Upstate held its first tryouts in two years, for Sparty, the mascot of the university. Sparty, the Spartan warrior, is known to show up at the athletic events for the university, and even special non-athletic events on campus. While many know Sparty and how entertaining he can be, not many know what it takes to don the armor and be the person inside.
Although tryout information was sent in an e-blast a few days before the actual tryouts, I was not sure what to expect when I showed up to the Hodge center on the warm Thursday evening in September. As I walked into the building and look around, there were cheerleaders are on the ground conversing, candidates ready to tryout, and the Sparty suit on the ground. As I walked to the table set up in the lobby, Brian Saville, Director of Marketing and Promotions for the university, greeted me. Mr. Saville was prepping the first of two candidates, Jonathan Wiley, to put the suit on. As Jonathan finally gets the suit on, Mr. Saville starts to give instruction on how things will run for both candidates. Mr. Saville explains how each candidate will perform solo to music, then interact with the cheerleaders.
Before the first audition came to a close, I watched as Amanda Wallace, USC Upstate Cheerleading coach, made certain requests of Jonathan. After he was done dancing and cheering in the Sparty suit, Ms. Wallace requested he attempt to jump and show some athleticism. As Jonathan attempted to do so, I could not help but wonder if the weight of the suit made it difficult to move around. When Jonathan finished, Mr. Saville helped him out of the suit. While Jonathan and I spoke, the second candidate suited up. I asked why he wanted to be Sparty, and to describe the hardest part of the whole audition itself. Jonathan told me it was a “childhood dream” to become a mascot, and how much he looked forward to interacting with children and the crowd at events.
While Jonathan continued to give me details on his impressions of the audition, the whole mood of the room was changed. The second candidate, who I noticed was almost fully outfitted and ready to go, suddenly spoke up. Literally before placing the final piece of the suit on (Sparty’s head), the young man stops and seemingly out of embarrassment says, “I can’t go through with this”. All the eyes in the room shifted to the young man as he then took the suit off and we waited for what was next. There were only two candidates after all, and the first candidate gladly went through his audition. At this point, the tryouts were over, and everyone was to go home, or so I thought.
By default Jonathan Wiley was awarded the job of Sparty, but even though the job of Sparty had been secured, Mr. Saville thought it would be fun for me to do a preliminary run. After some conversation with him and Ms. Wallace, and of course with some push from our lovely cheerleaders, I decided to give it a shot. The suit itself, which is about 10 pieces, immediately adds body heat. As Ms. Wallace zipped the back of the chest piece on and I put on the head, there is a noticeable difference in the lack of vision and movement allowed from the suit. I danced, cheered, and jumped around with the cheerleaders for about ten minutes, which felt like 20, with all the heat in the suit. With the cheerleaders cheered me on, it was a fun experience in the end. Some may look at the suit and think it’s “uncool”, or “lame”, but I could not disagree more. It’s a job of anonymity, in which you get to interact and help change the mood of the people around you. It’s goofy. It’s hot in the suit, but in the end, it’s fun. More importantly the job is exactly what you make it. While most would shy away from openly doing the job, I would tryout again in an instant. You may think it’s not fun, but for $12.50/hour to jump around with the lovely ladies of Upstate cheerleading. It could not be a better deal.