By Maylon T. Rice
Sue E., Big Red, Boss Hog, Ribby, Pork Chop
While the University of Arkansas mascots — Big Red, Boss Hog, Ribby, Pork Chop and Sue E — are just one part of Jean Nail’s busy game day preparation, the mention of the mascots makes her smile. She has been at this almost longer than she likes to admit.
“I think this is the 28th or is it the 29th year,” Nail said and chuckled. “It’s always good to reflect back on the past, but we are busy with the present.”
And busy she is. Nail oversees all the Spirit Squads — the cheerleaders, pom squads, RBI dancers and yes, the mascots.
The mascots are a smaller squad, but one with a big impact on fans and the TV cameras whether football, basketball, baseball or any number of other Razorback sports.
The TV cameras sure like the mascots and the Razorback is one of the most unique mascots in college sports. That makes Nail and the entire state of Arkansas proud.
Even veteran broadcaster Chuck Barrett likes these costumed students who help engage the crowds.
“I think the mascots are a big part of the game day experience, especially for kids,” Barrett said. “And our mascots do a great job of interacting with them. I know they have to be in great shape to do what they do with the weight of the costumes. They just do a good job. I’ve always been impressed by them.”
This year’s mascot lineup includes some first-year participants and some Northwest Arkansas natives.
Steve Sparks — aka Ribby, the baseball mascot — is included in this story even though he graduated last May and won’t be back for the 2010 baseball season.
One of the mascots asked to keep his human identity secret. And you know when a Razorback mascot asks a writer not to reveal his name, but to focus on the Razorbacks, well, in Arkansas, that’s what you do.
Big Red Heads Into Third Season
The veteran on this year’s mascot squad is third-year man Christopher Decker of Siloam Springs. The son of Mark and Sheri Decker, he is carrying on a family tradition.
The business finance and investment management major’s older brother Andrew — a UA cheerleader — encouraged his younger brother to try out for the Big Red role.
In high school, Decker played basketball and was on the gymnastics squad.
“I have grown up a die-hard Razorback fan. When my brother and I were 2 and 4 years old, my dad painted the Razorback basketball court in our garage, complete with key, 3-point line and Hog logo. We would play for hours, but even then I was never the mascot, always Todd Day, Corliss Williamson or other great Razorbacks.”
“The best part of (being a mascot and) working the crowds for me, are the kids. Some love Big Red, like I did when I was their age and some are terrified of Big Red, but it is a really special feeling when you get a kid to warm up to you over a game or the season. Watching kids see the mascot, many for their first time and knowing by the reaction it has made their day, that is the best … next to whipping Texas!”
Every year the mascot squad goes to cheer and mascot camp in Milwaukee, Wis., spending about a week learning from other collegiate and professional mascots.
“It is definitely an experience you cannot describe when there are 20-plus mascots in a room together. The instructor last year asked us to call the Hogs, telling all the other participants that they were about to hear the most feared call in all of college sports. Believe me that got us going.”
What is the toughest thing about being a mascot?
“Staying hydrated may be the toughest part of being a mascot,” Decker said. “It is easy to lose 5 pounds or more per game.”
Big Red For Women’s Sports A Newcomer
This will be Rebecca Greenway of Conway’s first season as a Razorback mascot, but it won’t be her first time under the costume as a sidelines character.
The daughter of David and Carlan Greenway, she will be a sophomore on the campus, but a freshman in the role of Big Red for Women’s Sports.
While still deciding between theater or education as a course of study, Greenway is a keeping a family tradition going. Both of her sisters auditioned for Arkansas Spirit Squads.
In high school Greenway was a member of the dance team, played volleyball for Ozark Volleyball Academy and worked as a mascot named “Sparky.”
Like the other freshmen mascots, Greenway was excited about the mascot camp she attended this summer and called the event “a great experience.”
Greenway stays busy as a member of Chi Omega, the Volleyball Club and R.E.A.L. Razorbacks.
She is excited about stepping onto the UA volleyball court.
“I am looking forward to the first time that I step onto the volleyball court and hear the fans call the Hogs. Arkansas fans are some of the most intense fans in collegiate sports, and it will be amazing to interact with them as a Hog.”
Why do fans love the mascots? Greenways says that Arkansas mascots are the embodiment of team and fan spirit. They represent the university, and they are the cherished symbol that brings all Razorbacks together.”
Sue E Trades Band Uniform For Mascot Wear
Buffy Trent has traded one uniform for another. Now the Sue E mascot, the Spiro, Okla., native enters her first year as a mascot after three years as a Marching Razorback band member.
The daughter of Drs. David and Judy Trent, she is busy pursuing degrees in psychology and music.
Her time in the UA band convinced her that she wanted to be a mascot.
“I have been a member of the Razorback Marching Band for the past three years; consequently I have been present at many Razorback events and functions,” Trent said. “I have always been envious of the mascots and their involvement with the crowd. Beginning my final year at the U of A I decided it was finally time to audition.”
Trent has a background as a cheerleader and a Bulldog mascot back home in Spiro. “I was a cheerleader for two years and I was the mascot for a year.”
She is a member of Sigma Alpha Iota (International Music Fraternity for Women), the University of Arkansas Wind Symphony and a member of the Psychology Club.
Her favorite part of being Sue E is of working with the crowd and the little kids.
“A hug, a picture, an autograph, or even just a high-five makes their day and it is incredibly fulfilling to see that reflected through the smiles on their faces. This is what I am looking forward to about my first appearance at a Razorback football game.”
“The U of A mascots are not merely students dressed like pigs, they are physical representations of a symbol that is close to the hearts of hog fans statewide. Through the U of A mascots, the Razorbacks come alive.”
Once A Squirrel, Now Pork Chop
Farmington’s own Brittany Nottenkamper may have once played a costumed movie character for a Wal-Mart shareholders meeting, but now she’s really pumped about being Pork Chop.
The daughter of Bill and Cindy Nottenkamper will mark her first year as a UA mascot this fall. The special education major said that the brief stint at the Wal-Mart shareholders meeting as Hami the Squirrel from the movie “Over The Hedge” got her dreaming of being a college mascot.
She wasn’t at the UA at the time, but was attending college in another state. “But the Razorbacks kept calling me home,” she said.
As a Farmington Cardinal, Nottenkamper was on the Farmington High School pom squad and dance team.
For Nottenkamper, being a mascot takes preparation and careful planning to prevent injuries.
“In order to keep my energy levels high, I work out everyday with a fitness trainer,” Nottenkamper said. “Because the summer weather can be so hot, especially wearing a furry suit, it is important to keep the body hydrated.”
She said she was allowed to practice as the Razorback mascot and perform at the Red/White scrimmage.
“The Razorback fans are the best in the country and they help the spirit squads keep the energy levels high.”
That translates to her as Pork Chop as well.
“For this being my first time at a Razorback football game as a Razorback mascot, I am filled with joy, excitement, enthusiasm and a little bit of nervousness. I feel honored to have the opportunity to represent the University of Arkansas as Pork Chop.
“Mascots aren’t just some person in a suit. They are a character representing the University of Arkansas faculty, staff, students, alumni and fans. They help put the smiles and laughter on the faces of those that support the University of Arkansas. The fans supply the energy and the mascots help carry that energy to the field of our athletes. Mascots are the connecting point of a bridge well built. Having a fan take your picture, shake your hand or just give you a hug at the end of the day, tells us that we did our job and did it well.”
Boss Hog, The Mystery Man
The student portraying Boss Hog this fall may be one of the mysteries of the season.
“I wish to remain anonymous in the article, because I think that if too many people know who Boss Hog is, this would take away from the image of Boss Hog.”
This first year spirit squad member is a civil engineering major and a member of Campus Crusade for Christ. The Little Rock native tried out for Boss Hog because it was something he always wanted to do.
“The Arkansas Razorbacks have been one of my passions since I was about 5. My friends all know me as one of the greatest Razorback fans ever. They would always see Boss Hog at games and say that I need to try out for him. And then, when I found out the previous Boss Hog was a senior this past year, I knew that I was destined to try out for Boss Hog for this next season.”
This mysterious Boss Hog played basketball in high school and has never been a member of the spirit squad.
This Boss Hog already had some pre-game traditions.
“The day before every home game, I get my Razorback flags and magnets and put them on my truck. Then on the morning of the game, I’ll wake up and watch College Game Day to get fired up for the day of football. After this, while I shower and get ready I have a Razorback mix of the band that I listen to get my mindset right for the day. Then I get what I usually would wear to a game, which consists of my Hog hat helmet, a Razorback jersey, and a Hog flag that I wear as a cape.”
This was before he donned the Boss Hog costume.
“To actually be the center of attention with 76,000 fans watching you perform and to help get all these fans fired up for one of my passions in life … words can not describe this feeling. I am sure that it will be hard to sleep the night before the first game.”
Boss Hog says mascots make it even more exciting when the team is winning. Everything a mascot does is hilarious, and they can just walk up and mess with anyone, Boss Hog said.
Ribby Encouraged By Pork Chop
Steve Sparks of Beebe was Ribby The Razorback, for one season. The son of Tim and Carol Sparks, he graduated in May and is now attending Harding University College of Pharmacy.
Sparks had the blessing of another mascot for his foray into the Razorback themed role.
“Page Daniel, formerly Pork Chop, thought I would be a good mascot so she asked me to tryout.” Sparks said. “I was unsure about it at first knowing it was a huge responsibility and I had to dedicate so much time to being a mascot. I tried out and it has been one of the best decisions I could have ever made. Some of my fondest memories of college are from the games and being in that suit.”
His first mascot opportunity came, not as Ribby, but as Big Red.
“Each game, each (mascot) personality, everything is always changing. There is no routine. It is all improv. At the game you’re almost a celebrity. People wanting your autograph, pictures, it is just something that won’t ever happen to me again.”
Sparks says running through the “A” was amazing. “That is something I will never forget. I got to lead the band in the fight song and leading the Hog Call in front of a record 12,000 Hog fans at a baseball game was something that still gives me chills.”
But it is not all fun. Working the crowd is sometimes difficult especially when the team is behind, or has made a mistake,” Sparks said.
“Also you sometimes get mauled by kids and have to try to stay out of the way of the fans watching the game.
“They (mascots) are also a symbol and ambassador of the university. The Razorback is who we are, it is our battle cry, the mascot is just an embodiment of that. (It) gives us a physical memory and picture of who we are as Razorbacks.”
(Back Row) Chris Decker, Rebecca Greenway, Erik Walther
(Front Row) Elizabeth “Buffy” Trent, Brittany Nottenkamper