By Robert Bao
He's our own jolly green giant. Lovable, huggable, and for Spartans of every age, ever so photo-poseable.
In the fall of 1995, MSU's beloved Sparty leaped into national celebrity in the same dramatic fashion that gymnast Kerri Strug vaulted into Olympian history at the Atlanta games. It happened when ESPN showed Sparty holding Strug--"Beauty and the Beast" style--in its national advertising campaign for "SportsCenter."
As "beasts" go, however, Sparty is way-cool. He's massive, but cartoon-cute. The seven-foot costume weighs in at 30 pounds, allowing enough flexibility for playful gestures and animation. To Spartan fans, his national popularity came as no surprise.
Here's a thumbnail sketch of Sparty's meteoric emergence:
- In August, 1995, Sparty won the "leadership" award from his peers at the nation's largest mascot camp Milwaukee, WI.
- Throughout the fall of 1995, Sparty starred in a series of ESPN ads promoting "SportsCenter," a campaign that probably reached every sports fan in America with cable TV.
- To help attendance, Sparty was chosen to host the 1996 Homecoming Dance--re-christened "Sparty's Party"--featuring the Marvelettes and Gary Lewis and the Playboys.
- Sparty starred in MSU's 30-second TV commercial beamed to the nation during ABC-TV's telecast of the Michigan football game Nov. 2, 1995. In this MTV-pace ad, Sparty rides a rocket ship, surfs the web, and does acrobatics.
- Sparty reprised his ESPN appearance with Strug during halftime of the Indiana football game Nov. 9, 1995, carrying her to midfield to promote a gymnastics tour at Breslin Center that evening.
At the last event, the Spartan Stadium crowd went wild. Yet the very fans who roared its approval will be surprised to learn that just a few years ago, the current Sparty mascot did not exist. In fact, Sparty was introduced for the first time in the Fall of 1989.
The Student Alumni Foundation--the alumni association's student arm--which now runs the program. A company in Atlanta created the design after visiting MSU and learning about Michigan State and MSU tradition. It was an instant success. From the get-go, everyone loved Sparty!
Made of hi-tech materials, including a vinyl chest plate and fiberglass molds like the ones used for making Muppets, Sparty is a far cry from the many papier mache heads that have popped up since the 1950s, mostly from fraternity efforts. The first official one apparently debuted in 1955, courtesy of Theta Xi. Other versions were introduced from time to time. In 1984, Sigma Phi Epsilon introduced the first "gruff" head--sporting the unshaven look that still adorns many sweat shirts and jackets.
By contrast, the current Sparty costume is a state-of-the-art, full-bodied uniform that costs about $8,000 and is breatheable, flexible and moveable. It's also "washable," which is very frequent necessity.
The mascot program is run by SAF students who head up the mascot program. The students plan the schedules, coordinate the escorts, make the transportation arrangements, and supply Sparty with water and towels during performances. On a hot day, the student who is Sparty can lose from three to five pounds.
Today several students--their identities kept private--take turns being Sparty with one of tthree costumes. Because of the costume size, Sparty aspirants must be between 5-10 and 6-2 in height. Candidates who fit the physical needs are chosen after a hands-on process that includes interviews and rehearsals.
The Sparty mascot program is funded mainly by the MSU Alumni Association, and receives some support from the MSU Dept. of Athletics.
"We're always looking for ways to supplement our income," says SAF advisor Bev Vandenberg. "We'll do weddings, graduation events, private events, MSUAA regional club events. We just need three weeks notice. A request form needs to be filled."
The hourly cost depends on the event. Those who have hired Sparty have invariably been more than satisfied, given the mascot's enduring popularity.
Those interested in hiring Sparty can call the Student Alumni Foundation at 517-355-4458. Those who wish to donate to the Sparty mascot fund can contact University Development at 517-355-8257. Those interested in seeing the Sparty Home Page on the World Wide Web can visit Sparty's home page at (http://msuaa.alumni.msu.edu/saf/sparty.html).
From inchoate mascot to national celebrity in less than a decade, this Sparty is destined to prevail for a while. So long as fans continue their support, the MSUAA's mascot program will continue to flourish and provide fans with a distinctive, lovable, and classy mascot-a national celebrity to boot.
Useful Sparty Facts
To hire Sparty, call the Student Alumni Foundation, 517-355-4458.
To donate to the Sparty mascot program, call University Development, 517-355-8257.
For more information, visit Sparty's Home Page on the World Wide Web, (http://msuaa.alumni.msu.edu/saf/sparty.html).