By Olivia Lewis, For The Miami Student
Swoop, the Miami University mascot with an oversized head and fuzzy red body, gripped the nearest rail and wrenched himself up to pose for a photo. Someone yelled, "Do the 'jump around!'"
If birds could flash mischievous grins, then Swoop would have. He blazed through the frenzied crowd, leaving a trail of high-fives and selfies in his wake. Hooting and hollering followed him.
The 'run around' is a staple in mascot fanfare and multiple students perform Swoop's cheeky delivery.
Miami sophomore Jacob Li, whose name was changed to protect his identity, became Swoop two months ago after hearing that the mascot program was searching for new recruits.
For Li, playing Swoop gives him an outlet for goofiness, a reprieve from his humorless desk job.
"It's easier to be myself when I'm Swoop," Li said. "When I'm in the suit, no one knows who I am. I can be as dumb as I want and people will think it's hilarious. It's nice to have a hidden identity because no one can judge you for what you do."
When Li is Swoop, he can't go anywhere without shrieks of, "Oh, there's Swoop! Let's take a selfie with him!"
"I walk through the stands and everyone wants a picture," Li said. "I walk outside the gates and I literally have a line forming to get pictures taken with me. Everyone wants to get high-fives and little kids are always wanting hugs."
There are four student athletes who don the Swoop suit and they practice their routines with the cheer team every Wednesday evening.
Matthew Casto, Miami's head cheerleading coach, is in charge of deciding each Swoop's schedule by setting up rotations, which allow the four students to take turns working the home and away games. It's his responsibility to choose new Swoops every year.
"As far as what we look for in Swoop, it depends on what that person brings to the table, whether it's interacting well with others or being funny and creative," Casto said.
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As a former Swoop, Miami alumnus Tylar Rodriguez had plenty of duties. He and the others were expected to do prize giveaways and attend any event where Swoop was requested.
"Even if the event or game was a blowout, it was our responsibility to find ways to engage the crowd and keep fans interested in the event," Rodriguez said. "In a way, it was our duty to be the 'super-fan' for Miami athletics."
One of Rodriguez's favorite memories as Swoop was the hockey game against the Ohio State University on Halloween during his freshman year.
"People wanted to engage with me and I truly felt like I took on the persona of Swoop," Rodriguez said. "The best part was always during 'jump around,' where people would go crazy."
Sometimes, fans become too crazy. Although each Swoop is accompanied by a handler, Li recalls being harassed while working at the Miami v. Western Kentucky game this year.
"Being there with fans that were heckling, booing and throwing slushies at me was rough," Li said. "There was also a really drunk guy who shoved me and tried to goad me into fighting with him, but I ignored him."
According to Casto, Li reacted appropriately to the situation.
"We are ambassadors for this great university," said Casto. "We take the high road."
These instances are rare and getting sweaty while frolicking around in Swoop's suit is the only annoyance Li regularly experiences.
"It can be 65 degrees out and you'd still sweat so much," Li said. "I drank two gallons of water before the first game and I sweat every single bit of it out."
Despite the heat and aggressive sports fans, Li feels proud to be part of Swoop's legacy. The fact that he also gets free Miami gear doesn't hurt either, and he already has a growing collection of Miami branded sweatshirts, shorts and tennis shoes.
"The crazier you act, the better the crowd responds," Li said. "You have to try to be obnoxious. Be goofy, be silly, because people love that. Swoop is able to get the crowd going - a wild crowd that cheers players on should be every mascot's goal. Plain and simple."