Author: Andrea Amiel, C’87
“Rob” is a 20-year-old sophomore from upstate New York who represents Penn as our beloved mascot, the Quaker. Recently, he agreed to let me in on a few trade secrets in preparation of promoting our Class of 1987 reunion this year during Alumni Weekend, May 11-14, 2012. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed meeting him!
Why did you want to try out to be the Quaker?
I’m not really sure why I was interested. Perhaps it was the idea of getting in free for front row seats at all the basketball games or maybe it was the idea of hanging out with all the cheerleaders after the game. Thinking back, I probably figured that even if it didn’t work out, it’d make a good story, so I went for it and signed up.
When you got to Penn, how did you find out about the mascot tryouts…or did they find you?
I didn’t join until November of my freshman year. The idea of being a mascot never really crossed my mind before that. This year, it was a bit different. We actively recruited during New Student Orientation, handed out fliers, and set up a booth at the fall clubbing fair. Oftentimes, all you have to do is ask and people are willing to give it a shot. This past year, we had three tryout and we took them all. It ended up that one of them dropped.
What are the prerequisites for being the Quaker? You mentioned height…
Height is important: 5’10”-6’ in order to maintain similarity. Weight is much less important because the suit looks the same on just about everyone.
I would also say hygiene is important. We tend to switch at halves. We share the same head, so when one member is sick, we’re all at risk and as to the clothes, although it’s less than pleasant, if you’re the second halve mascot, you’re getting a wet suit.
FYI – There is 1 head and 2 sets of clothes. They get cleaned every to every other wearing.
What did the Quaker tryout entail?
I’ll give you my experience and the experience for the new guys:
For me- I was joining at a time when they really needed help. There was only one Quaker at the time and accordingly they were, for lack of a better term, desperate. My tryout went something like this:
Dave (Quaker at the time): Get in the suit.
Dave: Now, walk like the Quaker:
Me : (attempting to walk like a Quaker) Is this right?
Dave: No. Do it like this (proceeds to show me).
Me: (again attempting to walk like a Quaker) Right?
Dave: No, try again.
Dave: No! (Shows me one more time). You’ve got one more shot.
Dave: Ugh, well, you’ll figure it out eventually Now, get out there.
(Clearly, I wasn’t a natural).
For the incoming mascots this year it was much less about having raw talent and much more about gauging interest and size height.
What training did you receive for what you are supposed to do at games?
I got the nod that I was picked, and was thrown right into my first game. Any of the stylistic things I picked up (how to interact with crowds, dance etc.), I learned on the job or by meeting and watching other mascots. This past January, I had the opportunity to go to cheer nationals in Walt Disney World and I was able to watch and learn from the best.
Were you given a list of rules or regulations? Any you can share?
Initially, I was given three rules and I’ll explain the relevance of each one.
Do not talk in the suit. It’s important that the mascot maintain a cartoon-like character and talking it humanizes the mascot and takes a lot of the fun away.
Do not be seen in public with the suit. That means no parties in the suit, or leisurely strolls for attention, and always change in private. The Quaker is one of the main images and representations of the University of Pennsylvania and accordingly, any action that I do in the suit is a reflection of the University as a whole. It would be a shame to dishonor this place, so it is imperative that when in the suit, we try to act respectfully.
Don’t advertise that I am the mascot. While the different mascot identities aren’t kept perfectly secret, we’re still hidden enough from the public that 99% of people have no idea who we are. It’s important that our lives outside of the suit don’t interfere with the University’s image. For example, I’m in a fraternity, but that doesn’t mean that Quaker is a frat brother.
This past year, a few additional rules were added because we earned a complaint from the NCAA: No mooning crowds in the suit (Princeton got us in trouble for that one). No more ripping the head of other school’s respective mascots, even if it’s just a stuffed animal that we’re attacking.
The Quaker went from being a person wearing makeup and a wig, to a full costume with a mask. Why?
The transition from an open-faced costume to a fully enclosed suit was both advantageous for the University’s image and for the student body. First, the full suit made it possible for Penn to maintain consistency year in and year out, because it no longer was graduating the “face” of the university, which of course would happen every four years. Having an open-faced suit created a level of risk because the image and reputation of the current student mascot reflected on the university.
The other issue was that an open-faced mascot only allowed for one individual to be the mascot and accordingly, everyone would have to put up with his time constraints. Additionally, it prevented females and minorities from having the opportunity to become the mascot, because on some level, the mascot image had to remain consistent.
To emphasize my point, three years ago, the main mascot was female. Right now, we have four people serving as The Quaker. It’s a diverse set of mascots, representing the Caucasian, Black, Indian, and LGBT communities.
Where does the Quaker show up – aside from sporting events? Are there events or occasions that require the Quaker’s attendance?
You never know where he’ll show up. Sometimes he’ll make surprise visits to Van Pelt, to weddings, to a ton of alumni events, Penn Previews, 5Ks, openings of buildings, Philly Phanatic’s Birthday party, and even some corporate events.
How do you pick which of the Quakers works at a particular event? Doesn’t everyone want the big-time events?
Events get assigned in the following order:
Everyone checks their schedule to see who is open. If multiple Quakers have openings, it will be decided on a first-come, first-serve basis. If it is a big event, the most senior Quakers make the call.
Are you paid for being the Quaker, or is it a volunteer position?
The Quaker is actually a member of the cheer team and accordingly, is a registered NCAA division I athlete. Because of that status, the mascot cannot be paid.
Where is the costume stored?
The Quaker Den is located in the Old Box Office in the Palestra. The room is decorated with old trophies, Penn flags, headless tigers, and general Penn paraphernalia. There is also a 4’ by 4’ section of the historical Palestra floor where we change in front of a mirror.
Why don’t we ever see the Quaker walking around campus?
A few reasons. Generally, the suit is stored in the Palestra in order to make it easy for one of the Quakers to find the suit. It takes 10-15 minutes to put on the suit and it has to be done in secrecy/private. The suit costs about $5,000 and accordingly, any unnecessary wear is viewed as exactly that. It’s not the most comfortable to hang around it. It generates a lot of attention. When you’re in the suit you’re a celebrity, so it’s kind of like saying, why don’t we see celebrities around campus more?
Are you allowed to borrow the Quaker costume for private events, like a party or something?
The Quaker is only allowed to be used for University-affiliated, sponsored, or supported events. Because we represent the University, it would be inappropriate for the Quaker to be a frat party, for example.
Have you ever gotten harassed as the Quaker, or had a hard time?
For some reason, I’ve had really bad luck at lacrosse games. Walking around the concourse of Franklin Field I’ve had a couple kids shoulder-check me into the wall. Walking through the stands, I can remember one event in particular, where a teenage girl refused to let go of my glove for an entire hour, so I was of stuck next to her until she let go of my glove and I could get away.
I made the mistake of taking the Quaker out to Spring Fling last year. I ended up having to literally run away from a group of girls in the Quad who were adamant about removing my head. Soon after, I had a group of males approach me from behind, pick me up and drop me.
At the St. Joe’s game this year, I was harassing the opponent crowd when the Hawk swooped in, bumped me, and tried to start a fight. Fortunately, the ref ended that before it really had a chance to begin though.
So, yes, sometimes, it gets a little tricky.
Any funny stories or great anecdotes that you can share?
It’s common for me to find myself in some pretty unique situations while in the suit. Last October, I received an email from a psychiatrist asking me if I’d be willing to work with this child (of a Penn alum) who had a phobia of costumed characters. Next thing I knew, I was sitting on a bench outside of Starbucks on Chestnut and 34th, dressed up in the suit, with a terrified child — and when I say terrified, I mean terrified, staring me down from 50 feet away. Over the course of the next hour, the patient worked her way toward me, overcame her fear, and ended up posing for a picture with me.
Before my first football game, I was told that I needed to practice running the flag, leading the football team onto the field. Well, to say the least, I dismissed the idea of practicing running- I mean how difficult is it to run, granted even in the mascot suit it’s not all that complicated? It’s the same motion, just bigger steps, right? I should have practiced, because when it came time, I made it three quarters of the way down the field, lost my balance, did a short weave, and collapsed. When I looked up, I was completely surrounded by a herd of giant football players. I just closed my eyes hoping that I would make it out alive. After somehow surviving the stampede, I walked off the field. I don’t think I ever appreciated my anonymous status as much as I did then.
What’s the worst part about being the Quaker? The best part?
As to the worst: the worst part is our schedule. We never know when we’ll get a last minute email to attend an event and often times it’s challenging to balance the schedule with the academic load, but that’s why we have four athletes instead of just one.
The best part is what I’ll call the “VIP Privilege.” We get into all sporting events for free and we have what is essentially an all-access pass. It’s completely acceptable and oftentimes encouraged for the mascot to walk up and kiss our beloved President, Amy Gutmann, and it’s equally as acceptable to walk onto the floor during time-outs and give the players high-fives. I’m certain that almost nobody else is afforded those opportunities.