Maybe I didn’t choose to wear the mascot costume. Maybe it chose me.
I spent a recent afternoon waving at children, posing for photographs and occasionally breaking into dance on the midway of the Allen County Fair. The beauty of it is no one knew it was me, as I was dressed as Scoop the News Hound, the mascot of The Lima News.
If you didn’t know the news organization had a mascot, it’s OK. Most people don’t. It’s been in storage for at least a decade. Since it was Visit Greater Lima and The Lima News day at the fair, it seemed like an opportune time to take Scoop out of retirement.
Here’s how I ended up getting the job: The costume fit, and no one else volunteered.
When word started to spread at the office that I was going to wear the costume, I heard plenty of giggles and snickers. Apparently, I’ve developed a reputation for taking myself and our newsroom’s work too seriously. While we do, I like a good laugh as much as anyone.
I’m guilty of speaking in a monotone frequently, and some people weren’t sure how a wordsmith would act without words. I suppose I could see their concern of putting that inside of a mascot costume, where you have to exaggerate your motions and emotions.
I’ll always have a warm spot in my heart for children. Besides, with my own kids all 8 or older, I don’t get to interact with younger kids anymore, aside from smiling and waving at them at church.
Once you put that costume on, though, you cease being yourself. You start becoming Scoop, a playful puppy who likes high-fives, fist bumps and silly dances that nearly trip him up with his oversized feet.
Our metro editor, Craig Kelly, led Scoop around the fairgrounds as my eyes and ears, since my peripheral vision was nonexistent inside that big dog head. We were warmly received by children and adults alike. Sure, there were some children genuinely terrified of a 5-foot-9, 220-pound dog. In hindsight, they might be the only ones in their right minds.
One observation is children are just so caring and thoughtful. I was surprised how many youngsters sprinted up to hug Scoop, even though he hasn’t made a public appearance since their parents were teens. One little boy and girl were so caring that they came up and hugged Scoop twice, and they made a third appearance to give bottles of water to Craig and me.
Also, people can’t help but smile and wave at a mascot. Scoop started looking for people who didn’t look like they’d want to interact with a mascot, namely teens, older adults and fair workers. Yet as soon as Scoop started waving at them or interacting with them, a big smile crossed their faces. I even converted a group of teens who wanted to pretend Scoop wasn’t there while they played on their mobile phones, where eventually they wanted selfies with the News Hound.
You also learn people don’t know what to say to a mascot, especially since it isn’t answering you back. They assume it’s warm in the costume, which is true but tolerable.
You also notice you can’t help but smile in pictures. Even though Scoop has a permanent grin stitched into his face, I kept showing my pearly whites everytime some snapped a picture. I made all sorts of silly faces, even though no one ever saw them. You just can’t help it.
It’s just fun to connect with people who you don’t know and have such a pleasant experience.
After I removed the mascot costume and put it in its black bag, I walked back from the grandstand toward the exit, right past many of the families I’d greeted minutes before. I was completely invisible to them now, another middle-aged guy wandering the fairgrounds.
Some of that’s on them. Some of it’s on me. Perhaps if I would’ve put a big smile on my face and waved to them, they would’ve done the same for me. Maybe it was time to start dancing or something else to get out of my shell. That could be my lesson of why Scoop the News Hound chose me.
David Trinko is editor of The Lima News, a division of AIM Media Midwest. Reach him at 567-242-0467, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Lima_Trinko.