It started with an email after a football game. "If you're serious, come to my office at ___. Tell no one. Delete this email." I mean, you have to answer, right? And that's the thought process that began the most influential journey I have ever been on, guided by an orange ball we all know as Syracuse mascot Otto the Orange.
Let's start this series off by answering your very obvious questions in order:
- No, Ottos don't get scholarship money. There is a handful of scholarships for the Spirit program every year that are fought for between members of cheer, dance and mascot. None of these are even remotely close to a full ride. We do get a set of warmups to rep that #BRAND.
- The Otto team is a co-ed team, made up of between 4-7 students depending on the year and the team.
- Ottos are considered "student athletes" that must abide by the standards of Syracuse student athletes. That does include weekly workouts and team meetings that make up 3-4 hours of a week.
We all good? Well if not, I've got two more of these in the pipeline that will hopefully peel back some of the layers to our favorite mascot.
So the obvious question that leads, well, led to, is, "How does one become Otto?" The answer: it depends. Sometimes, head coach Julie Walas-Huynh has an inkling on a kid and it works out. (Hi!) Sometimes, someone has so much school spirit it doesn't go unnoticed and the recruitment begins. Other times, a good old fashioned social media campaign coupled with some flyers do the trick.
The first... well everything as you become Otto is in a blur of feelings and memories. I remember my first appearance and how I felt so awkward being a mascot for the first time. I remember the first time leaving the Dome tunnel and seeing 25,000+ cheering and realizing "I have to dance in front of THAT?!" I remember being in over my head. I remember thinking this was going to be a one and done thing.
But as time went on, something crazy happened. Everyone who has helped bring Otto to live has that moment where for the first time, they stop thinking and Just Do It. You stop thinking "What do I do now," and start just being Otto. You grab a hat because it's going to make someone laugh. You mess with a dude's hair because, well, why not? You conduct the band because it's fun. You spin your head because it's soooo much fun. And that's the moment you're no longer in a mascot suit. It's the moment you're officially on the team because you've finally convinced yourself that you are in fact an orange with arms.
It's definitely the weirdest realization in the world, but that's when you stop becoming a freshman looking for fun and a Syracuse student trying to bring a cartoon character to life. And that's when you just start to realize all that Otto really is.
Next week: I'm going where? Now?!