The nest just got a bit more crowded.
Temple’s athletic department unveiled a new mascot earlier this month, welcoming T-Bird into the fold at university sporting events.
Introduced on Feb. 11 at a men’s basketball game at the Liacouras Center, T-Bird joins Temple’s primary mascot, Hooter, and his sidekick Baby Owl.
Though he has appeared at only four games, T-Bird has developed a reputation for being rebellious. He dances with cheerleaders and with female fans. He imitates members of the pep band. He breakdances.
Wearing a red jersey that bears the signature Temple “T,” T-Bird brings a fresh sense of intensity to the sidelines, said Temple promotions director Scott Walcoff.
“Our goal was to make T-Bird a more energetic, hipper version of Hooter,” Walcoff said.
T-Bird caters to a larger fanbase than Baby Owl, which was Walcoff’s reasoning for tapering Baby Owl’s role. Eventually, Walcoff said, Baby Owl will be used for public appearances and limited in-game service.
The Temple students who play the mascots will not be losing work or scholarship money despite Baby Owl’s lessened role. Mo McCleary represents one part of a three-student mascot rotation. A sophomore radio and television major, McCleary is on partial scholarship for his role as T-Bird.
During his first games in costume, McCleary’s character was not well received. He said fans shouted derogatory comments like, “all we need is Hooter” and “bring back Baby Owl.” Overall, McCleary said he has handled the overriding negative criticisms.
“I constantly have to pull tricks out of my hat to keep people happy,” he said. “Come football season, I’m going to have some amazing stunts. Things are going to be a bit more acrobatic with a bit more shtick.”
Erik Johnson, who plays Hooter, is McCleary’s mascot counterpart. Johnson said he has supported McCleary through McCleary’s first few outings as T-Bird. Johnson added that he has not felt intimidated by the athletic department’s mascot addition.
“Hooter is the mascot Temple fans know. He is the most identifiable,” Johnson, who is in his second year as Hooter, said. “T-Bird is that added guy who can do what Hooter can’t do. That’s why there will always be a place for T-Bird.”
Although countless fans have expressed their dislike for T-Bird, one of Temple’s more notable fans had no objections to the new mascot.
Joan Ballots, a long-time Temple booster and a personal friend of men’s basketball coach John Chaney’s, liked T-Bird’s look. She said she does not have any qualms with the new mascot.
“I have no problem with T-Bird representing Temple University as long as this mascot might offer a different dimension to interaction with our fans,” said Ballots, whose husband, John, played two seasons with the men’s basketball team.
Any Temple student can attend annual April tryouts to be one of the mascots. The athletic department’s Web site lists “energetic attitude … and an affinity for having fun” as credentials for the job. McCleary deviated, saying the role is more complicated than it may seem.
“There are certain dos and don’ts with NCAA rules, like you can’t hassle refs on calls,” McCleary said. “It’s not just handstands.”
Christopher A. Vito can be reached at email@example.com.