All hail the high school mascot |
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Some are cute, funny or even imposing.

Almost all are fuzzy.

Behold the high school mascot.

Reppin’ their academic institutions and cheering on from the sidelines, area high school students are proud to don an often hot and cumbersome mascot suit —all in the name of boosting school spirit.

Pennsylvania has 689 high school mascots, according to data compiled by MaxPreps.

The most common mascot in Pennsylvania? Eagles.

What does it take to land a mascot gig?

Some schools make their students try out, like Leechburg Area High School, while others take any eager and enthusiastic first volunteer.

Meet Highlands High School freshman Olivia Bonnett.

Bonnett has a cheerleading background and a cheer coach for a mom. On game days, Bonnett transforms into “Rammie” — Highland’s affectionately named Ram mascot.

Rammie sports a shiny bow, large horns and a plush suit. “This costume is new this season,” Bonnett said. “My mom’s the cheer coach, my sister is the assistant coach, and I used to be a cheerleader, and I don’t have a sport that I do right now.”

A live ram named Herky once cruised the sidelines at Highlands football games “back in the day — during the 1970s,” said Highlands High School athletic director Chuck Debor. Artificial turf put an end to livestock being allowed on the sidelines, and a plush ram suit gets the job done these days.

The Norwin Knight, representing Norwin High School, appears regal on the field in a silver and blue outfit with a large metallic helmet.

Norwin High School junior Jensen Scamardi entertains the fans at games, dancing in sync with cheerleaders and receiving navigation assistance from fellow cheerleader Hannah Patalsky.

“It’s hard to see in the costume,” Scamardi said.

Scamardi originally was a reluctant mascot.

“At first, I didn’t want to be the Norwin Knight because I was nervous being in front of all those people and not knowing what to do during the football games,” Scamardi said.

“However, my sister, Julia, was the Norwin Knight for her senior year, and it always looked like she was having so much fun. I was tempted by that.”

Scamardi said her performance nerves have faded, and she loves the perks of the mascot world.

“I get to make friends with the cheerleaders, football players, lead the homecoming parade in downtown Irwin, interact with the kids — and the fact that both my sister and I are known as the Norwin Knight,” she said.

Mascot duties extend off the sidelines, too, with visits to area district elementary schools, school events and participation in community events often a requirement.

Leechburg Area High School leans toward the acrobatic with their requirements for the Blue Devil mascot, said cheer coach Kenzie Young.

“For decades, Leechburg has always had a cheerleader with a broad gymnastics background to fill the mascot role,” Young said. Several coaches select the mascot based on tryouts.

Leechburg senior Nevaeh Zoldak is this season’s Blue Devil, complete with devil horns and a devil flag. Look for her to wow the crowds with gymnastics tumbles, including back tucks and back handsprings after touchdowns.

Penn-Trafford senior Jonathan Heinbaugh loved being the “Chief” so much last season, he is entertaining fans for a second year.

“The hardest part of the mascot job is turning up the crowd when you’re losing,” Heinbaugh said. “The most fun part is showing the community that it’s OK to be weird and wacky and dance like no one is watching and to just enjoy being around everyone.”

Joyce Hanz is a freelance writer.

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