For lack of a face

By The Beacon | September 26, 2007 9:00pm

By Nic LaPonte

A few of you may remember several years back, there used to be a face to the athletic programs here. That face was Wally. He was a boisterous scamp, cavorting and extolling fans to new levels of feverous revelry at games and events. Wally was also a bit of a laughingstock; in the world of athletic mascots he was an anomaly.

No one really knew what he supposed to be. Ideally, Wally represented the intrepid spirit of the original river pilots of the Willamette and the Columbia, bravely navigating the treacherous and unmarked waterways and guiding ships to safety. These are the pilots from which our school takes the moniker "Pilots" and the ideal that Wally was supposed to represent.

Something got lost, however, in the historical translation from brave ideal to mascot form. The sight of what was essentially a gigantic head with a saucy grin did not promote the inspiring thoughts about our intrepid namesakes that a good mascot should.

Wally got the ax.

This left the school with a void to fill. Questions have been circulating ever since Wally's departure about a replacement mascot that would better reflect both our heritage and out school spirit.

The question that I want answered is one that I don't think many have considered.

Do we even need a mascot?

"When Wally first went away, we didn't hear a peep from anyone," said Tricia Miller, athletic marketing director.

You've been to the soccer games; school spirit is obviously not an issue. Groups like the Christie Hall Firemen, the Villa Drum Squad and the newly legalized Purple Pride all promote school spirit and do at the games what a mascot is supposed to do: excite the crowd.

The mascot void has been with us for so long that only the senior class has actually memories of Wally. There are still vestiges of his existence hanging around, like the cold specter of breath on a cold morning. The ASUP logo, for instance, still features Wally in his trademark stance, charging bravely into the unknown.

The majority of students here have gone through its entire college experience so far without a mascot to rally behind. This lack of a public face for the Athletic Department has not impacted game attendance or school spirit. Is it worth spending the money and energy to come up with a new one? What has been done in the last three years about the new mascot? Are there secret meetings and back room conferences deciding the future face of the Portland Pilots?

The fact that the mascot decision will be in large part student-based was one thing that Miller stressed.

"I don't want students to feel like it's an underground thing - it's the voice of the students. We've talked about using an online voting system similar to the one that ASUP uses," Miller said.

Despite the seemingly long time period between Wally's retirement and any news about a new mascot, there are, in fact, plans in the works, and some progress has been made toward selecting a new face for the school.

"We're trying to work with ASUP to try and develop a strategy for getting a new mascot. We've done some brainstorm sessions and had some really funny ideas. We're just trying to narrow down the concept to get the image that we're looking for," Miller said.

There haven't been any appreciable expenditures on the project as of yet, according to Miller. The Athletic Marketing Department and ASUP are still trying to work out a budget as part of their overall plan. Any project of this size will eventually cost some money, though; the price of just the costume could range from $6,000 to $10,000.

"We'll use a professional company to develop our ideas," Miller said.

I'm still not entirely convinced of the strict necessity of a mascot. Although the prospect of a fresh face to rally behind is exciting, I'm in doubt of just a single character to accurately represent all of the dynamism and spirit that our school possess. Ultimately, the reason Wally failed was that he didn't represent us anymore.

The selection process for the new mascot should facilitate more student responses. Indeed, it already has. I leave you to think about the possibility of one of the many new, unique mascot suggestions in one of the brainstorming sessions.

"One of the hundreds of random ideas has been a salmon, which we actually quite liked," Miller said.