Identity of mascots
Some teams reveal mascot identity, but Duke upholds mystery
INDIANAPOLIS -- The face of a college athletic team doesn’t always have a face.
As players and coaches come and go, the most stable figure in many college basketball programs is the mascot. With the exception of an occasional costume change, college mascots remain unchanged by time while everything around them changes.
Yet, despite their highly visible role in the psyche of students and fans, the hours that students put in behind the mask are often without public acknowledgement.
Although some colleges and universities release the identity of the students inside the costumes, others such as Duke University have adopted a policy of strict anonymity.
“It’s almost a secret society and such a highly-regarded position,” said Alayne Rusnak, head coach of Duke’s cheerleading and Dancing Devils programs. “Their families know, but their poor friends. They’ll tell them, ‘I have an interview in New York. I won’t be around.’ Meanwhile, the tournament is going on. They come up with some pretty clever stuff.”
For the mascots entertaining fans at the Midwest Regional Final of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, the road to the court was a long one.
At Duke, potential candidates must be privately recommended by the staff before undergoing an extensive, multi-round audition process.
“We do not post a public tryout,” said Rusnak. “We reach out to members of the cheerleading team or dance team. Sometimes, we even reach out to the band because we are close with them.”
Candidates that survive the first round of auditions are invited back for a more intensive tryout. For these auditions, candidates often attend an event to simulate a game-day experience. From there, more cuts are made until the final round when candidates actually try out in the Blue Devil suit.
Once a student is chosen to be the mascot, they usually retain their job until graduation, cheering at every home and most neutral site games.
For some neutral site games, like the Midwest Regional Final at Lucas Oil Stadium tomorrow night, mascots must follow specific rules and procedures. A mascot must stay on the team’s half of the court during timeouts. The mascot and cheerleaders must remain seated during play, likely to prevent visual obstruction.
“At home, if we scored a point or had a substitution for one of the players, they are allowed to celebrate, stand, and cheer,” said Rusnak. “Here, they have to stay seated until there is a called timeout or dead ball.”
No matter what the rules, however, the passion for the job stays the same. For Rusnak, the immense heart and soul behind the mask is a source of pride.
“They are so dedicated and committed and love what they do,” she said. “They absolutely drink it in and I’m always so proud of everything they do. A lot of people don’t see the behind-the-scenes things that they’re required to do. Being faceless sometimes feels thankless, but it never is to them because it’s such an honor for them.”