There are many aspects of a school's spirit that work together to created a united atmosphere. One of the most animated elements comes in the form of a character known as a mascot, which is usually associated with the cheerleading team.

Everyone is familiar with the mascot persona "“ usually a member of the schools that suits up in full costume, including a usually oversized head! Mascots are a part of high school, college and even pro sports teams. So why are mascots an integral part of sports? What gives them the magic that can bring an entire stadium to their feet?

A mascot is often thought to be a sort of good luck charm, and can be in the form of a person, object or animal that represents the common public identity or a group. The mascot for a school or team often reflects a competitive quality that a team wishes to embody, and sometimes also a regional trait. For schools and sports teams, mascots are present at their pep rallies and their games.

History of Mascots in Sports
The history of mascots is tied to the history of cheerleading. Both began at colleges, where the sports teams were looking for a way to rally and unite their fans and to develop unique identifiers. Many colleges and pro sports teams were already named after and associated with an animal or historical figure, but that icon was not being utilized as a live-action school representation.

After premiering at Ivy League schools, the idea of live-action mascots started to catch on with other colleges and became a staple at games. It became common to see a mascot on the sidelines, interacting with the crowd and often supporting the cheerleaders on the sidelines by joining some of their routines. As individual mascot identities became household names, cheerleading squads even started creating cheers to specifically incorporate their team's mascot. They also fueled the mascot's popularity by including an image of the mascot on their signage, face paint and other cheer accessories.

By the 1960s, the world of professional sports began to debut mascots on their courts and fields. Today, mascots represent a proud association with and connection to a team, and the responsibilities of mascots have continued to grow with their rise in popularity.

A Mascot's Duties
Each school and team's athletic department has a unique culture, which reflects their mascot's role. Many mascots are now a household name, and some of the more popular ones have even been included in sports video games and events like ribbon cuttings and fundraisers. Here's a brief overview of some of a mascot's duties:

Athleticism and Costumes. Being a mascot is physically demanding and requires just as much athleticism as cheerleading. Not only do mascots participate in cheerleading stunting, they also have their own set of stunts that they perform "“ in costume! A mascot's costume can weigh upwards of 20 pounds, and while wearing one a mascot may do jumps, kicks and tumbling. For more extreme teams, mascots might even use equipment like trampolines to jump through rings of fire or enhance a slam dunk.

Energize and Entertain. A mascot's main purpose is the most important: energize the team and community's spirit. One of the ways they do this is to use entertainment to gain attention and generate excitement. Mascots are a rally point for the team and school supporters, providing a symbol of pride and presenting the community as strong. Mascots also keep spirits up when a game isn't going well, which can help the team bounce back!

Ambassadors and Incentives. Mascots are also known to do a lot of good in their communities. They serve goodwill by partnering with cheerleading squads to volunteer with local organizations and raise awareness for charities and their events. They also show their ability to do whatever it takes for their team by doing things that help give incentive for the community to support and donate "“ such as a dunk tank or agreeing to jump in a body of water in the winter if a certain dollar amount is raised.

Official and Unofficial Mascots
Throughout history, sports teams have survived not only on their talent, but also on their supporters. While there are many official mascots these days, there are also unofficial mascots that have earned that title through the extreme measures they have taken to support the team. These fans may boast a perfect attendance record to games, have a tattoo of the team logo or have their own costume for games. In other cases, a team will adopt an unofficial mascot as part of giving back to charity, such as in cases where ill children are given mascot treatment and access to the team.

Some mascot choices have not stood the test of time, and serve as a point of controversy in today's athletic community. For example, there are several sports teams with names that directly tie to Native Americans, and imagery like feathers and headdresses have been the aim of critics' complaints in recent years. Over 600 teams have dropped their connection to those kinds of mascots and slogans since 1969, when activists and associations within athletics started pushing for a change. Some teams, including the Washington Redskins, have been enduring court appearances for years. Many college and professional teams are hesitant to make major changes to their recognizable merchandise.

Overall, mascots represent school pride and team unity and help create an atmosphere that many sports fans and participants will remember fondly through all the years of their life!