VALPARAISO | Their feet, clad in vinyl boots, stomped on the wooden floor of the dance studio at Valparaiso University, fists pumping the air, shield in hand as they grooved to their school fight song.
Thursday night’s tryout for the Crusader mascot was the biggest of its kind, drawing four times as many applicants as last year, and Jenny Garrett, the university's associate director of marketing for athletics, says the goal is to get the campus involved.
“Every year we look for a new mascot and this year we wanted more people involved so we can get the campus excited about it and get students to take more pride in their mascot,” she said.
About 20 students turned out to try their hands at donning the mascot uniform, although the identity of the Crusader is always kept a secret says Kristen Knoerzer, media relations.
“The Crusader is more than any one person. It’s the embodiment of the Valparaiso University spirit,” Knoerzer says.
And that spirit was on display as applicants not only strutted their stuff to the Valpo fight song, but also showed their moves to popular tunes like “Gangnam Style,” displayed their level of comfort while wearing the uniform, simulated posing for photos with fans, and reacted to a number of imagined scenarios.
“The referee just made a blatantly awful call against our team, show us what you would do?” asked the student who portrayed last year’s Crusader.
“We’re down by two, there are 30 seconds left on the clock, our star player makes the shot and gets three, what would you do?” he asked again.
For those who try out to portray the Crusader, Garrett says the appeal is being part of a school tradition.
“The Crusader’s role is to interact with the Valpo campus and the community," she said. "The Crusader loves people and kids, athletics, and, of course, the university. We are looking for someone who has a lot of rhythm, is fun with the crowd, and gives our teams energy and can relay that enthusiasm to the fans and students. They will go to a lot of athletic events and it is important for our Crusader to be at university events and community events, so this is a commitment.”
That community outreach is growing for the Crusader. Garrett noted this year was the first year that the mascot acted as grand marshal of the Popcorn Festival parade, and the university has acquired a “Crusader Cruiser,” a van wrapped in gold and brown, to escort the mascot to events.