The Collegian
Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Student spidey splits time with professional

The NEW Spidey!
The NEW Spidey!

There's a new Spidey in town.

Jana Ross, an assistant director of athletics who is responsible for marketing and fan development, and Erin Martin, the cheerleading coach, realized at the beginning of the 2007-08 school year that they would soon need to replace the two students who volunteered to be Spidey full-time. One, known as Spi-C, graduated in May and another, known as Spi-T, is graduating in December.

Ross and Martin tried to recruit more students because the two other students, juniors who call themselves Spi-Lo and Spi-Fus, can only volunteer part-time. As far as Ross knows, this has always been a student position, but she said she began looking outside the university community when only one person came to an interest meeting held during cheerleading tryouts.

She contacted a professional mascot this past summer, who was working as the Diamond Duck, the Richmond Braves' mascot. They came to an agreement in September that he would be Spidey for the 2008-09 basketball season, which Ross said was to ensure that there would be a full-time Spidey after Spi-T's graduation.

The professional mascot will be paid for his appearances as Spidey, but Ross said she could not reveal the exact amount of his salary. Student Spidey mascots have been hired on a volunteer-only basis.

"So far, the agreement is just this basketball season, 2008 to 2009," Ross said. "We definitely want students to be involved, but we have committed to this individual for the year for the basketball season."

Because the agreement is limited to this one season, Ross, a full-time employee, and Martin, a part-time employee, will begin searching for next year's full-time Spidey once the basketball seasons are over. Interested students should get in touch with Ross and Martin, both of whose contact information is on the athletics department's Web site.

Ross, who has been working for three years at the university, said there had been two full-time student mascots each year she had been here. Spi-Lo joined the group of Spideys in April, but the bulk of his work was at special events during the summer. His other extracurricular activities have limited him to part-time Spidey participation this fall.

"I like working with Jana and Erin," Spi-Lo said. "They don't treat us like crap. They take care of us. This is not a knock on them ... most likely these orders aren't coming from them."

Spi-T has been a mascot at the University of Richmond since the middle of the fall of 2007, but was also a mascot at the university he attended before he transferred to Richmond.

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"I think it's a lot of fun," Spi-T said. "It's an opportunity to get more involved with athletics without having to wake up at awkward times or work out all the time."

Marketing for this position is difficult, but he said he didn't think the Spideys had had a problem fulfilling their responsibilities.

"We find a way to make it work," Spi-T said. "I don't think we have been recruiting as well as we should."

During the fall, the three student Spideys have attended football games, which requires only a few hours on Saturdays. They have also made select appearances in the Richmond community. Spidey mascots are expected to travel to all home games, select away games and postseason games.

Spi-Lo went to Charlottesville for the U.Va. football game, which he said was his favorite memory of his time as Spidey, but Spi-T has been at most of this season's football games.

"I've done football games because what else am I doing?" Spi-T said. "I'd rather do that than sit in the stands with somewhat belligerent students and adults."

The time commitment will increase during the winter, because there will be at least one Spidey at every home men's and women's basketball game and any playoff games. Ross said she would send requests to the three students and one professional mascot and they could decide based on their schedules who could do which events.

Spi-T said he had attended all the weeknight games last year and Spi-C had gone to weekend games. Spi-Lo said he was hoping to do weekend night games but hadn't been assigned games yet.

"The fact that basketball season is coming up and we haven't found out is a problem," he said. "Don't take away things that are valuable to us as volunteer Spideys."

Last year, an inflatable Spidey costume debuted, and Ross said she hoped there would be one person wearing the traditional Spidey costume and another wearing the inflatable one.

"If there are two Spideys, it ups the things we can do," Ross said. "Our hope is if they can do both games then they will use both costumes simultaneously."

Spi-T prefers the inflatable costume and Spi-Lo prefers the traditional costume, but neither was certain which costume the student Spidey would wear and which the professional Spidey would wear.

Spi-T first heard the athletics department was considering hiring a professional mascot from Martin when they were on the way to the football game at Elon University in August. He was waiting to hear from someone who worked full-time at the university, and met with Ross to get confirmation.

The biggest problem with the decision to hire someone else, Spi-T and Spi-Lo both said, was the lack of communication. Spi-Lo said he was most upset that Ross and Martin didn't come to talk to the volunteers first. Spi-T thought the system was disorganized and no one was quite sure who was in charge.

"We're supposed to go to cheerleading practices," he said. "I don't know when they are."

Because the Spideys like to remain anonymous, Spi-T said it was hard to recruit people to fill the position. He was actually the one who convinced Spi-Lo to come to an interest meeting, and said the two of them tried to talk to their friends about the job.

Spi-T said the advertising for interest meetings was minimal, and should have at least been highlighted in SpiderBytes. He has, however, recently gotten one junior interested in the position, and said he was working on others as well.

"I want to leave and inundate them with a list of people who want to be Spidey," Spi-T said, because "they're going to have this guy and eventually there will be no student mascot."

Spi-T is worried students will progressively lose interest, and he said the school would end up paying money for positions that could be filled by students. Spi-Lo mentioned the outsourcing of the pep band as another example of taking opportunities away from students.

"All it does is it turns students away from being Spidey because they know they can be bought out," Spi-Lo said. "It just seems this is the trend we're going for."

Most colleges and universities use students as mascots, Spi-T said. He thought Spidey could make or break the mood of a crowd.

"You don't have to be extroverted," Spi-T said. "Nobody knows who you are so you can act like a fool."

Spi-Lo said the personal connection between Spidey and the students would be less potent with a professional, and he was also concerned that a professional wouldn't have the same kind of school spirit as the student mascots do.

Spi-T shared Spi-Lo's concern and asked, "What do you expect to get out of a professional that we can't do?"

The advantage of having students as mascots, Spi-Lo said, was that they know the students. They know how to interact with the students and what to do at the right time. Both Spi-T and Spi-Lo liked to take advantage of being in costume.

"There's a mysterious element to it," Spi-T said. "Few people know that I do it. People are always like, 'Spidey, do I know you?'"

Spi-Lo said he liked high-fiving people he didn't know and making a connection between Spidey and the students. But if you know Spi-Lo, things might get a bit more personal.

"If I know people," Spi-Lo said, "I go up to them and whisper their name in their ear."

Spi-T said he was worried about what would happen during basketball season when students couldn't be sure whether or not Spidey was a student. He said he'd danced with one girl a few weeks ago, but didn't think girls would want to dance with an older Spidey.

"It's going to be creepy as s--- if they know that's not a Richmond student," Spi-T said. "They're going to think, 'Who is this sketchy guy?'"

Both Spi-T and Spi-Lo questioned the decision to hire a professional - not just whether it was appropriate, but whether it was even necessary.

"It's ridiculous that out of 3,000 students they can't find one student to be the mascot," Spi-T said. "We've made every commitment we've known about in advance."

Spi-Lo agreed that he, Spi-T and Spi-Fus should have been able to fulfill the requirements of the basketball season, particularly if Spi-T continues to pique student interest in the position. He also didn't like the message this change sent.

"It's like telling students they're not able to participate in all of college life," Spi-Lo said. "They talk about how we're adults - then treat us like them."

Contact staff writer Barrett Neale at barrett.neale@richmond.edu

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