Sparky – My Life As A Mascot

There will be 20 ASU seniors honored during the UA. Actually, make that 21. The ASU student who portrayed Sparky, will be working his last ASU Football game at Sun Devil Stadium. The beloved mascot has worked relentlessly in his four years revving up the ASU crowd, and brining smiles to both young and old maroon and gold fans. In this interview, Sparky talks about his experiences as a mascot, and what will really go on when he and the U of A's mascot Wilbur will meet on Friday…

DD: How did you get this gig as Sparky?

Sparky: In the fall of 1997, I was actually going to be a cheerleader. Then, a week before Football season started, the Women's Gymnastics coach John Speeny, heard about me and my background in gymnastics, and asked me if I was interested in being Sparky. He wanted me to put on the costume and see if I could still do gymnastics with the head on (smile). He brought me down (to the now torn down) PE West. The first flip I did I landed on my butt. From there we practiced more, and he asked me if I wanted to do it since the first home game was four days away. I said I would love to do it. He showed me a little about the character Sparky. I was doing tumbles all day for four days. I was practicing in front of a mirror, and had my parents watch me and also film me doing my moves. They got to see all my moves with the costume on and got to see what was stupid and what wasn't. In the costume I only see straight out in front of me, so I had to get used to that when I tumble. That why if a little kid is below my waist standing right in front of me trying to "give me five", I can't see them. I had to totally adjust my routine, but I did and I've been doing the games ever since.

DD: Do you do just perform at Football and Men's Basketball games?

Sparky: Yeah pretty much. I also do a few Baseball games. My first two years, they (ASU's Marketing dept.) pretty much had me doing everything. I did a lot of promos. Sometimes, they just needed someone in costume, and not the real Sparky. I didn't want to lose the gig, so I put up with that. I really like doing the games, but I still had to do all the little stuff that they wanted me to do. After my sophomore year, I was in my major and just didn't have time doing thousands of promos a week. So now, they have another Sparky that does all the little promos and I do the bigger promos like tailgates as well as the games.

DD: As far as your moves, you said you practice in and out of costume and in front of other people. But do you, like players, look at game film or even other mascots to refine your moves?

Sparky: It's funny; I learned a lot of stuff from the Phoenix Suns Gorilla. I actually love to be the Suns Gorilla. I saw him the other day, and I asked him when he's leaving, so I could step in his shoes (smile). He's been doing it for a long time, and will probably continue for another five years. Just like me he's an ex-ASU gymnastic.

DD: When you do your moves out there, is anything planned or coordinated with the cheerleaders or are you pretty much your own boss out there?

Sparky: I actually am my own boss out there, so that's great. When I'm in that Sparky costume I do whatever I want. I'm like the coolest thing out there. I don't stick much by the cheerleaders. I just try and go out and entertain the fans. When you have timeouts or dead moments, that's my time to shine. I do try and not to interfere with the fans during the game. They want to watch it and so do I.

DD: At the risk of sounding corny, it would be fair to assume that your interaction with kids makes this job really worthwhile.

Sparky: The kids are the biggest fans of Sparky. It just makes their day when they see Sparky. They get so excited. Some of them want to see me up close, and when they do they get scared. I get used to kids crying sometimes. I just try to stay somewhat far from the kid so I don't scare them. If they start crying I just turn around.

DD: I noticed that during Basketball games you get to interact with fans more than Football. Which one of those sports is more fun for you to work at?

Sparky: I don't want to say that I enjoy one over the other. I do like Basketball a lot because when there's a time out, I can run out to the court and there's nowhere else for the fans to look at but at the court. It gives me much more time to shine. During Football games, there's just so much more going on. Some fans that watch me in both sports get to notice my moves more during Basketball games, even though I'm doing the same stuff during Football.

DD: Being in the costume, can you talk and be heard by others close to you?

Sparky: I'm not allowed to talk in costume. Sometimes, I'll have to talk to the cheer coach or a cheerleader. But I can't talk to the fans. That's what I thought would be the hardest part of being Sparky, and I didn't know if I could do it. But once you put on this mask that covers your entire face, you just don't think about talking.

DD: Can you tell us about your first game performing as Sparky?

Sparky: It was the biggest adrenalin rush in my life! Sparky is just such a big deal at ASU; fans go nuts when they see him. When I'm on the board doing pushups, and I just flex my arms like I'm going to start them, the fans just go crazy. I always try to follow the ball from end zone to end zone. And it's such power when I go up in the stands and make everyone stand up and cheer with me.

DD: You speak of having power over people, so I have to ask, has it done wonders to you love life?

Sparky: Yes, it actually did well. A lot of girls want to date Sparky. One game I passed a note to the girl singing the national anthem to meet me at the Rec Center, and sure enough she did and we went on a few dates. The girl I'm dating now wanted to date Sparky too at one time.

DD: Well aside from benefiting your love life, does this gig count as extra credit? Are you on scholarship?

Sparky: After my sophomore year I realized how much work all this was. It takes like ten minutes to get in or out the costume. You take the costume after each game to wash it, and the head takes two days to dry. They were always asking me to travel everywhere and it just became a lot of work. I was paying for my own gas during those travels. So at that point, I told them that I would need some kind of tuition waiver. So, they did get me that. I felt I earned it, and luckily enough they did too. They got a lot of compliments on my work. I'm lucky because the cheerleaders don't get a thing.

DD: Do you get graded each game or each season by the cheer coach or someone else?

Sparky: Not really. My first two years, I really didn't know much so I followed the cheerleaders' moves and went to their practices. So, back then the cheer coach worked with me a lot. I think the Athletic Directors are the guys I need to keep happy. They would tell me if I'm doing OK or not. The head of ASU's Marketing dept. is really my boss. Those are the guys I am really listen to.

DD: You're about to graduate ASU next semester. The U of A game will be your last performance at Sun Devil Stadium. I guess this year will be a sentimental one for you.

Sparky: ASU has been so good to me, and I made some great connections. In years past, I got turned down when I asked for four tickets (up from two) for each Football game. I have a big family, and I wanted all of them to come see me. Gene Smith was the first athletic director who approved me getting four tickets. He personally signed a letter that he sent to me, saying how tough it will be to replace me, and how much he appreciated my work. I didn't know how much he noticed me, and here he is telling me I earned it. That's probably the biggest compliment I ever got.

They're actually letting me participate in the senior day ceremony. So, I'll be the first one running out of the tunnel and my parents will be there on the field to greet me. I know so many of the players and they think it's cool. I asked George Wynn (Head of Football Operations) if I could run out with the seniors, and he said ofcourse you can. Players like Unck, Wallin, and Levi Jones think it's just great. I know my parents are so excited about it. I'm still planning to do Basketball games after the first of the year. I'm real excited for the Pac-10 tournament and I hope I get to go to Los Angeles for it.

DD: What do you think you're best performance as Sparky was?

Sparky: My freshman year at the U of A game. Me and their cheerleaders had a tumble off, where we both are trying to outdo each other. I think the fans weren't even watching the game, they were just watching us square off. They had each of their ten cheerleaders try to out tumble me, and I had an answer for each of them. That is my greatest memory.

DD: We're coming up on the U of A game, and this game isn't only big for the players and the fans. It's pretty big for you too, isn't it?

Sparky: I hate U of A more than anything. I twisted my ankle, so I haven't been tumbling that much lately. But I have to be healthy for this game, because their cheerleaders always try to out tumble me. I don't want to see anyone from U of A during the game, especially not Wilbur. When Wilbur and I wrestle it's half serious. We don't want to hurt each other, but we don't want to look stupid. The last Wilbur was much smaller than me, so he knows he can't start anything with me. I have 50 pounds on him, and I'm not a big guy.

DD: Lastly, if there's someone out there that wants become Sparky in the future, what advice do you have for them? Sparky: Always stay in character. Sparky is always moving around, and that's just part of his character. He's always excited and jumping around, so you have to say true to that. If you want to be still, you better go to the side.

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