New Mascot, Big Red, Makes Debut
At the William H. Pitt Health and Recreation Center on February 10, while the Sacred Heart University marching band played the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey, a large cloaked figure walked to center court, and to dramatic fanfare, was revealed to the crowd as … Bucky. Apparently SHU’s trusty old mascot had elbowed his way into one last appearance in the limelight, and had to be escorted away by Public Safety.
Then the real moment arrived, the moment that 1,523 fans packed the Pitt Center to see: the unveiling of the new Pioneer mascot, “Big Red,” at halftime of the women’s basketball game versus Robert Morris College.
As the band played, the dance team danced, and the cheerleaders cheered, men’s basketball Coach Dave Bike announced to the crowd, “I think it’s time to bring in a substitution.” With that, Big Red ran onto the court, loudly lauded by the near-capacity gathering of students, alumni and fans.
“The whole event surpassed our expectations,” said Mark Adzigian, SHU’s associate athletic director. “The crowd was rocking—they were really into it. We were very pleased with the attendance, with the enthusiasm of the crowd and with the way they responded to Big Red. It was a great day.”
SHU sporting events had been in a mascot drought for four years, after Bucky was retired following a decade of sideline service. Big Red’s arrival was the result of three years of work led by Student Government President Jim Daly. “This is something I’ve worked on since I was a freshman in Student Government,” said Daly, a senior. “I set a goal to help SHU get a new mascot before I graduated.”
Daly formed a committee comprised of five representatives from the Student Athletic Association and the Student Senate. The committee contracted with Street Characters, the company that created mascots for the NFL’s New England Patriots, the NHL’s New York Islanders and Major League Baseball’s Detroit Tigers.
Daly said that the priorities of Big Red’s design were first to embody the Pioneer identity, and second to account for ergonomics and flexibility. “Some mascots’ costumes don’t allow you to move around much, but Big Red is going to be able to do just about everything,” Daly said. “Dunk, ice skate, run around—you name it, Big Red will be able to do it.”
The committee led the processes of design and promotion, and Student Government wrote the check—all in the name of boosting Pioneer spirit. And judging by the crowd’s reaction on February 10, the boost worked.
“The introduction was awesome,” said Ryan Leahey, a junior who plays for the men’s golf team. “It’s a better costume than Bucky—it’s more up-to-date, and not cheesy-looking. Big Red will bring a lot more spirit to the school and to our games.”
Senior Jessica Leppla agreed. “I’m excited, because they took away our mascot my freshman year, and it’s great to have one again,” she said. “It adds a lot of energy and enthusiasm, and we needed something like that.”
Big Red stands 6-foot-7 and sports a raccoon hat and a faux-leather hunting shirt and pants, looking decidedly Daniel Boonesque. After his official introduction, the new mascot boogied with the dance team, threw T-shirts and towels to fans, and then hobnobbed with students in the stands.
“The energy and excitement the students were showing me were like nothing I’ve ever seen at this school before,” said Big Red, whose sans-costume identity remains secret. “They were even more energetic than at the women’s basketball conference championship against Quinnipiac last year. People kept saying things like, ‘You’re awesome,’ ‘You’re the man.’ Everyone was really excited.”
Now that Big Red’s debut is over, fans can expect to see him cheering the Pioneers at all basketball and football games. But that’s not where his work ends.
“Once we really get Big Red underway,” Adzigian said, “we’ll start having him go into town to meet people at local schools and hospitals. We’ll start building a whole community relations program around him.”
And so, a new era of Pioneer spirit begins.
“A mascot is a staple at a school,” Adzigian said. “So this is the beginning of a brand new tradition, which is pretty exciting.”