Life of a Mascot

Rally Cat, to most students, brings to mind images of a friendly, oversized Catamount, slapping high fives to kids and messing up the hair of college students who eagerly attend hockey games and show their school spirit.The official University of Vermont school mascot is the Catamount. The Catamount is unique to Vermont and to UVM, communication sciences senior Kim Sanzo said.”It’s cool that we have an animal that’s unique to Vermont history and no other state can claim it as their mascot,” she said. “I think it was chosen because it was a fierce animal that was representative of Vermont.”The current mascot, Rally Cat, was not always the UVM mascot. There have been a few mascots that have graced the Gutterson gymnasium before Rally assumed the position.Director of Student Life Pat Brown has been with the University for 30 years and has seen his fair share of snow, Naked Bike Rides and mascots at UVM.Prior to the 1980s, Charlie Catamount was the official mascot, Brown said.  In the early ‘80s, after a grad student project said that the mascot was not very visible, Charlie and Kitty Catamount were created — emphasizing gender equality in the mascots.Charlie and Kitty Catamount lasted for a period of time, and then the athletic department looked to re-brand its image. “Rally is about six or seven years old,” Assistant Vice President for Marketing and Business Development Chris McCabe said. “We did a brand overhaul a few years ago in athletics. There was a number of reasons for changing mascots.””The idea of a male and female mascot — that was somewhat not the norm. Our females on campus didn’t want to be known just as Lady Catamounts; it’s a ‘We’re all Catamounts’ type of spirit,” McCabe said.The athletic department has been careful about how to update the school mascot, while still keeping a sense of tradition and school spirit. “Rally came to be when we looked at re-branding our logo,” Krista Balogh, communications professional in the athletic department, said. “It went very well when we inducted the other mascots into the hall of fame.”  “Rally has become quite popular and more visible than Kitty and Charlie were,” Balogh said.One of the goals of the athletic department was to make Rally more visible, not just at athletic events, but at schoolwide and community events as well.”One of our goals was much more student involvement. Rally could be something Charlie and Kitty couldn’t,” McCabe said.This past weekend, Rally was at the Penguin Plunge for the Special Olympics. Rally has become a consistent presence at all different events and has taken on a person of his own, Balogh said.”Rally is at all of our athletic and special events,” Balogh said. “We incorporate him not only into all home game activities but around our campus, road games and special events with in our community.””Rally is a mascot which represents our mission and vision, has great sportsmanship and a positive energy,” said Balogh. McCabe agreed.”[With a mascot we try to] promote school spirit — Rally personifies that. Rally symbolizes the fun associated with athletics and school spirit.”The athletic department prefers the identity of Rally to remain quiet. The department hires students and athletes to perform as Rally but maintains an air of mystery about who is really underneath the suit. “We keep the identities of our Rallys a secret,” Michael Marfione, who works for Athletic Communications, said. Even though we don’t know Rally’s true identity, the fans react no differently.”Our students have really embraced Rally and like when the character is around,” McCabe said. “[They are] fellow students in the suit. We are not hiring professional actors. When you see Rally crowd surfing, it’s a student. To me, that’s what mascoting is all about.”Having a lot of school spirit makes playing the part of Rally much easier. Students can become Rally by being involved in Student Life or working with the athletic department. “A student can apply to be Rally Catamount by emailing [email protected],” Marfione said.”Once we are contacted by a prospective Rally, we ask that they come in for a tryout in the suit,” Marfione said. “We run over the guidelines and rules about being Rally Catamount. If the prospective Rally has a successful tryout and agrees to the guidelines and rules, we will then start to schedule them in for some games and outside events,” Marfione said.So what is a day in the life of Rally like? McCabe says its not easy being a big cat. “Taking care of Rally is a big job,” he explained. “We have two different suits so Rally can be in two places if need be. Krista Balogh and Michael Marfione [in the athletic department] coordinate Rally’s day,” McCabe said.On game days the schedule can get pretty hectic. “It’s a specific schedule and protocol. Rally comes out and skates and brings the flag out, and that’s symbolic that its time to go,” said McCabe. The fans go wild and the game begins.Catamount fans agree that Rally gets the crowd going at games and events. His high fives and crowd surfing make it worth the wait to get tickets for popular home games. “Its definitely worth it,” Sanzo said.