George Mason's Getting a New Mascot
College basketball arrives this week. The games start tomorrow. Several locals tip off on Friday. And here's the first bit of breaking news: after years of passionate debate, after occasional false starts and reprieves, Gunston is moving on.
Yup, George Mason's lovable and blobbable green mascot will step aside over the next week, a process that will be chronicled in a series of videos that will be released on the athletic department's Web site, including one of Gunston's "graduation" to bigger and better things. While Gunston--in a spruced-up costume--will remain at the university, largely working the community events circuit, his rah-rah athletic replacement will be unveiled at next Monday's home opener against Brown.
The school won't identify the new mascot, although an athletic department spokeswoman described it as "closer to a person than to a muppet," with dimensions of 7 feet and 240 pounds and a hat size of 29. He remains nameless, pending a contest.
Now, if you haven't followed this debate, you might be wondering, do college basketball fans really care about their mascot? When their mascot is green and furry and androgynous, they sure do.
"The school and the team elevated themselves to a certain expectation, and to have a wannabe Grover sitting there in the national spotlight was a little disheartening," Michael McNutt, a longtime fan and '95 grad, told me today. "It was kind of cute and all when we were just in the CAA tournament and the NIT, but when you play with the big boys, there's an expectation. It's like coming to the car show in a Hyundai."
"I feel like Gunston's kind of embarrassing; he looks a poorly constructed Sesame Street character," agreed fellow alum Ryan Kish, of the authoritative George Mason Basketball Blog. "I think everyone would love to have a new mascot that's more humanish. I think that would get a great ovation, especially at basketball games. Whenever he walks by the student section, some girls want to take pictures with him, but everyone is else is like, 'Gunston, we hate you!' "
Gunston's future, of course, was under debate even before the Patriots' went to the Final Four in 2006. After that season, an athletic department official said Gunston would be supplanted by a mascot with "a strong image," but before the next year's tip-off arrived a school spokesman said Gunston was "very much here to stay."
Then came the blue-ribbon panel of students, alumni, faculty and staff, trying to determine if a green blob could capture the "dynamic spirit" and "patriotic roots" of the school, even as other students rallied to Gunston's defense. Last spring, the panel submitted its verdict--later, Blob!--along with a recommendation for the nature of Gunston's replacement. After a bid process and all that, the costume was completed this fall. And in seven days, we'll meet him. Or her, I guess.
"It has to give everyone the idea that, 'Hey, take us serious, we have a serious mascot.' " McNutt told me. "I don't want G-Wiz out there jumping through hoops and catching on fire. A good, quality mascot would really show that we've arrived."
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