For senior Sarah Lottman, becoming her college’s mascot has been a dream since she was in fifth grade — that and roller skating to class.
Before her senior year, she had already accomplished roller skating to class, usually doing so in the springtime. But this year, she was finally able to become one of the students who currently performs as Blaze, Knox’s newly introduced fox mascot.
“I had resigned myself to my roller skates, but then when I heard that we were going to get a mascot I was super excited,” Lottman said.
This term, Lottman and three other students have worked as Blaze, who was introduced at Homecoming and has subsequently appeared at sports games. Athletic Director Chad Eisele said he hopes to grow that team of six to 10 students over the next term.
According to Eisele, serious conversations about bringing a mascot to campus have been in the works for about five years.
After the Athletic Department revamped the recruitment program and developed new logos for the Prairie Fire, a mascot was a natural next step.
This fall, Eisele received the Blaze costumes in the mail from the Canadian mascot company Loonie Times.
Two costumes were ordered in case Blaze needs to be in two places at once and so an alternative is available if one costume ever tears or needs to be cleaned.
He was the first to wear the suit. The day it came, he put it on and called President Teresa Amott and some of the staff at the Office of Communications.
“I said, ‘There’s somebody here to see you and you need to come over now unless you’re in a meeting,’” Eisele said.
They came over to the gym and Eisele greeted them as Blaze. They loved it.
The Blaze costume is hot and difficult to put on. Performers said that getting on all of the parts can take 10 to 15 minutes.
The headpiece has an interior fan that allows a bit of air to circulate. There are also ice packs that performers can wear under the costume to try to keep cool, though they have not yet been used.
Blaze cannot see very well. Performers have limited visibility through the mouth of the costume and can see a bit diagonally through the eye sockets. Anything beside, behind, or directly in front of them, where the nose of the costume, is isn’t visible.
Recently, senior Emma Lister got hit in the head with a soccer ball while performing as Blaze. A kid threw the ball at her, thinking that Blaze could see him.
“I didn’t even see the ball hit me, I just heard this thunk,” Lister said. “I saw the ball roll away and the heard the kid say, ‘Sorry Blaze!’”
The mascot performer is always paired with another student on the team called a handler who helps guide Blaze upstairs, get ready and make sure that they don’t fall or run into things. They also can take pictures and help manage crowds so Blaze isn’t overwhelmed by people.
The students on the Blaze team have developed hand signals, so if Blaze ever needs to get out of the costume immediately the handler knows to guide them away.
“The visibility is low enough that if there’s not someone being your eyes, you could hurt yourself, I think,” Lister said. “Ultimately, even though no one is trying to, I think someone could hurt you.”
Usually other student performers work as handlers, but Eisele and other Athletic Department staff can fill in as necessary.
Being in the Blaze suit allows students to forget themselves and just focus on taking on Blaze’s persona.
“I can be myself. Blaze is adorable, I love the costume. So I can dance and get everyone else just as hyped as I am,” freshman Niky Washington said.
Lister said that finding the balance between being present and entertaining, but not taking over a sports game was initially a difficult balance to strike.
“It’s hard because you are a big colorful fox, but you’re not the main attraction. The athletes are the main attraction,” she said. “The entertainment is the athletes doing what they do and being awesome at the sports that they play.”
Lister has found that being Blaze has allowed her to renew her interest in athletics, which she hasn’t been too involved in while at Knox.
“I especially like mascotting for the women’s sports because as someone who identifies as a woman, it’s just really empowering to see other women really beasting. I guess I wasn’t involved in the athletics community and I had forgotten that women playing sports is so amazing.”
The team refers to Blaze as Blaze rather than talking about who is in the suit. They see Blaze as having their own distinct personality.
“When you put that head on, you really forget yourself and you just become this caricature of Blaze and school spirit and excitement for everything,” Lottman said.
Eisele hopes to expand the Blaze performance team as soon as possible, knowing that three of the four performers now are seniors, he doesn’t want to worry about training a new group next fall.
Having more people on the team would allow Blaze to be at more events and games. Senior Noah Quilantan loves performing as Blaze, but said the only frustrating thing about the position has been not always having enough performers available to cover everything that the college’s events.
“When everything is in place, it’s great. It’s just that this is a new thing so we can’t really get everything into place right away,” Quilantan said.
Students interested in performing as Blaze need to be between 5’6” and 5’10” and can contact the Athletic Department. Once there are more people on the Blaze staff, Eisele would like to look into the possibility of sending one or two lead performers to a mascot camp.
All of the Blaze performers said they’d like to continue with the role for the rest of their time in college. Washington, the only freshman on the team, sees herself working as Blaze for her entire Knox career.
Lister said working as Blaze is a great college job for her and that she would probably still work as Blaze even if it was a voluntary position.
“I’ve held babies and hugged children and given old women who went to Knox like 30 years ago big hugs. It’s kind of heartwarming and it feels good for my soul,” Lister said.
Lottman said her 10-year-old self would be excited that her goal had finally been achieved.
“Ten-year-old Sarah would try to act like it was not that cool like, ‘What are you doing in a giant fox suit?’ But honestly she would be super hyped about the whole thing.”
Lottman got to be Blaze for the initial unveiling at Homecoming in Memorial Gym. Her parents drove the five hours from their home in Missouri to see her.
“They knew that was really important to me and I’d have my eye on it for awhile. There was only ever going to be one time when Blaze the fox was introduced to Knox. And it was me,” she said.