The best of high school mascots

By Jim Halley

Trent Bauer started this past football season in a Bulldogs costume as the mascot for Dunbar (Lexington, Ky.) and finished it as the team’s starting quarterback.

He knows which job is tougher.

“You might be more sore after a football game, but I was more tired after being the mascot,” Bauer said. “You’re supposed to wear that costume the whole game, but it gets kind of hot in there. There’s a fan in the helmet, but it’s never worked as long as I’ve worn it.”

Quarterbacks may get all the attention, but for the next month USA TODAY High School Sports is paying Bauer’s original job its due with our Most Unique High School Mascot competition.

You’ll get the chance to vote for the best high school sports mascot in the country, from A (the Auks in Delaware) to Z (the Zizzers in Missouri).

The contest begins Monday and includes five mascots from each state, plus the District of Columbia. After voting for the best mascot in each state, voting will determine the nation’s best mascot.

The winning mascot’s school will earn $2,000. It could go toward adding AC in the mascot’s helmet, but it doesn’t have to.

But before kicking off the festivities, a few mascot facts.

Mascots can get college scholarships

Besides being an interesting resume stuffer for college applications, mascots earn scholarships at some universities. All you have to do is be willing to lose 20 pounds of water weight during a hot football game.

The Eagles have it.

According to a previous USA TODAY story, 1,223 high schools have the Eagle as their mascot, making that the most popular mascot in the country.

The Tigers are No. 2 with 876 schools.

Even mascots have rules
  1. Never reveal your human identity in public.
  2. Mascots are allowed only non-verbal communication.
  3. Mascots are not supposed to interact with other team’s mascots. If two mascots stage a “fake” fight, the home mascot is supposed to win. Rule No. 3, of course, is broken all the time, leading to playful pushing and, in some cases, all-out brawls that enjoy a lot of attention on YouTube.
  4. Mascots should not pick up babies, who tend to be frightened by anthropomorphic bears and tigers. And Bulldogs.

Which brings us back to Bauer.

Even though he hadn’t played organized football since he was 10, Bauer tried out last school year only to quit after a few days.

Then this past fall, Bauer asked then-coach Derrick Thomas if he could give the sport another try.

First Bauer had to go through the mandatory 10 days of conditioning before joining the JV team. Then on game days, he was the varsity’s ball boy up until the seventh game of the season.

At the end of a 42-17 loss to Bryan Station (Lexington), Bauer came off the bench and threw two touchdowns.

By the next week he got bumped up to starter, leading Dunbar to a 22-19 come-from-behind win. And the legend of the 5-foot-9 mascot-turned-quarterback was born.

Local television stations and then other news outlets picked up the story. Even ABC’s “Good Morning America” did a segment on Bauer.

Once football season ended, Bauer went back to being the school’s mascot at basketball games, though usually he just takes part in the school’s “dog pound” section, which often wears themed costumes to games.