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The Mascot Diaries: A Winston Story

by John Bruyea

“Must be a current University of Windsor student.”

“Must be over 5’11 in height”

“Must have the ability to entertain without words”

No, these are not the must-haves to be a tall mime for an improv club on campus. These are just a few requirements that anyone wanting the role of Winston needs to meet.

Winston, the chiselled knight who sports matte grey armour with blue and gold woven throughout his protective suit, and the Lancer logo centred on his breastplate is the school mascot.

Photo courtesy of https://golancers.ca/

Current students and alumni easily recognize the enthusiastic knight but how much do we know about him? How, for example, did Winston get his name?

One might wonder why the name was not a play on words such as Lance the Lancer. But actually, it was. When you say W-I-N-S-T-O-N out loud, slowly pronouncing every syllable, doesn’t it sound like “Wins-a-ton?” Get it?!

Regardless of the little-known history behind the name of our beloved mascot, we are left with the question: Who are the people behind the mask? Who is Winston?  Or, maybe more accurately, who are the Winstons?

Winston #1 is a powerlifting operatic performance major, Winston #2 is an engineering student, and Winston #3 is a recent graduate who started a yacht detailing and cleaning company. Talk about diversity. In everyday life, they couldn’t be more different, but on game day, they can all become one central figure.

All three have enthusiastically agreed to speak about their time as Winston, but to refer to the common phrase, “there is beauty in the unknown.”  Therefore, the anonymity of each individual behind the mask will be kept concealed to preserve the mascot’s mystique.

How does someone even become a mascot in the first place? Winston #1 saw the job posting on the UWindsor job board. His decision to apply was then left in the hands of his trustworthy social media followers after creating a poll on Instagram for feedback. After 24 hours of voting, a resounding yes was received. Since his followers agreed with his inkling, Winston #1 thought it would be an ideal way to spend some of his free time and get a chance to goof around, so he submitted an application.

Winston #2 decided immediately after seeing the mascot at their very first football home opener that they were destined to wear that large blue and grey plush suit one day. After being sent the job posting from a friend, well, the rest is history.

Lastly, Winston #3, who has since graduated and is no longer playing the character, was working multiple jobs with Lancer Athletics when their boss asked them if they would like to add one more duty to the mix. Wanting to get more of an inside perspective of varsity events, Winston #3 eagerly accepted the commitment to knighthood during home varsity games.

Now you may wonder, were any of these individuals prepared or trained to be a mascot before assuming frontstage? Consistent throughout all three Winstons, the short answer was an emphatic no.

Photo courtesy of https://golancers.ca/

The closest thing Winston #2 said to have experience was dressing up for Halloween as a child. However, Winston #1 did have some “commedia dell’arte” experience during high school. Assuming you’re as uncultured as this writer, the term was googled it for all of us. The web authority says it is when someone wears a mask and acts humorously without using speech. Pretty applicable experience, don’t you think?

In order to be a mascot with no true experience, one would assume there would be some sort of Winston boot camp. Well, you know what they say about assuming. The “training” that these individuals get includes following around someone in the costume for a couple hours to see how they interact with the crowd.

Sometimes, if they’re lucky, they may have the pleasure to put on the suit to shoot some promotional videos for the university (which is mostly to see if they fit in the costume). After that, it’s sink or swim.

This lack of formalized training leads to creative freedom.  That’s why each Winston brings something unique to the role. On some game-days you may notice Winston has a more energetic pep to the step, sometimes they are breaking out into more dance moves, and other times they may be expressing a more mischievous side by tipping fans hats or trying to sneak up behind them during the game.

Often, you can tell who’s in the costume not only from the different attributes that they bring to the character but the physical height and build of a person who wears the suit is a dead giveaway. One Winston is 5’11 with a slim build, while another Winston is 6’3 and as muscular as they come. A careful eye will tell you who’s who.

So, what’s a typical day in the life of Winston?

Firstly, the person assuming Winston duties will show up at least an hour prior to game time, usually in workout clothes. They’ll go into the equipment room, which is equivalent to an actor’s trailer on set. They examine the costume they are about to spend the next four hours of their life confined in to ensure everything is in its proper place.

Hydration is essential. Not only must water consumption be plentiful before the costume is on, but it must also be easily accessible during the shift. If Winston is going to survive the game without becoming absolutely dehydrated, they need water and lots of it. From the stories shared by each of the Winstons, they equate a shift to essentially completing a full body workout in a sauna. Double the water is necessary if they’re working a football game in the fall due to humid temperatures.

“32 Celsius out and you are in a padded up sweat box,” laughed Winston #1.

During days like these, they can only summon up the courage to run out for a quick promotion to quickly retreat to the sanctuary of the shade in order to avoid heatstroke.

Costume and water taken care of, it’s now showtime. Putting on the costume is a process; almost identical to an actual knight putting on their armour before battle. Depending on how experienced the Winston is, this process can take between five to ten minutes.  Some of that speed also depends on if it’s done solo or with a helping hand from some home events staff. Here’s how it’s done:

  1. The padded onesie body suit goes on.
  2. The right and left boot pieces are slid on to the feet
  3. The corresponding jersey is slipped over the plush body suit to cover the back zipper.
  4. The hands are placed within the giant four-fingered gloves.
  5. Finally, it’s time for the helmet. The transformation from a typical University of Windsor student to the legendary Winston is complete.

Once the helmet is on, vision is as poor as you would expect. Winston can see about as much as your Great Aunt Deborah without her glasses.

With their peripheral vision being non-existent, and the slits of Winston’s helmet obstructing any view they might have; this makes any task quite challenging, which can be taken for granted by the public.

One of these tasks includes walking down a set of stairs; I think you know where this is going. While Winston takes a tumble down half a flight of stairs, and everyone laughs thinking it is part of the character, the actor is left to retreat to the equipment room to attend to their wounds, happy that it was not the full flight.

Unfortunately, the loss of vision has led to some acts of betrayal by Winston. With the lack of ability to see below chest level, Winston #2, unfortunately, has ploughed over those who are most excited to see him – little Lancer fans. Winston has taken out more children than any playground game of red rover. Thankfully, with the essence of the Winston suit and a few “high fours” and fist bumps, the children’s perception of Winston is restored and any frowns are instantly returned into smiles.

As a mascot, you are allowed to interact with people in ways that would never be socially acceptable outside of costume. Rather than being labelled as a “freak,” as one Winston puts it, you receive continuous smiles and a response of “Oh Winston, you rascal!”

Winston #1 explains that immediately, once the Winston costume is on, a sense of confidence overtakes them.

At the beginning of any varsity game, you’ll see Winston front-and-centre at the entrance greeting eager fans; they are there to make everyone laugh.

“There’s an unwritten rule for mascots to kind of mess around with people,” Winston #1 jokes while explaining the mascot code.

There are some workplace hazards built into the role. No, this isn’t a reference to the physical hazards, like tripping down stairs. This is much more serious; the mascot’s natural predator, the 10-year old trolls.

Photo courtesy of https://golancers.ca/

For reasons unknown, some children get a twisted satisfaction in ruining childhood fantasies for other youngsters.

Often, Winston will have to deal with a singular child that will lurk around Winston during the majority of the game. They will not rest until they have proven that the mascot is not “real.” These acts can range from taking a peak up Winston’s boot, to trying to sneak behind Winston and attempt to unzip the body suit.

What does Winston do in these scenarios? If they are not saved by a home events staff, they must use any mascot’s last attempt at self-defence…. Well-known millennial dance moves. Dance moves ranging from the sprinkler to the floss. Much like a skunk spraying its predators, Winston’s dancing works as a built-in troll repellant as other children are quick to join in and save him. But, unfortunately, sometimes there is more than one predator.

Winston #2 was once mobbed by a group of children trying to take him down, like a pride of lionesses taking down a mighty wildebeest. They clawed at his helmet in vain while they tore at his jersey; the only thing saving Winston was his height advantage.

Knowing that shoving the young children may be considered taboo by the home crowd, Winston had no defence strategy. Fortunately, Winston #2 was mercifully saved by a mother when she called off the attack.

It should be noted that for every 10-year old troll, there are countless children who adore Winston, some of whom only attend the game to get an interaction with their voiceless buddy.

Photo courtesy of https://golancers.ca/
“So many kids would love seeing Winston, a lot of them would come to games so that they could see Winston. Bringing a smile to their face, when they come up to you, they give you a high five and a hug and they turn around and smile run back to their mom and dad,” reminisces Winston #3.

It is now almost game time, and Winston is ready for the pre-game routine. Depending on the sport, the ritual changes. It could be doing a dance at half-court for Basketball, or running onto the field with the Football team. Anything to pump the Lancer fans up and erupt the crowd.

Once the action commences, Winston’s duties include dancing during the in-game timeouts, trying to excite the home fans, and helping give away promotional materials.

The most important thing, though? Let the people experience the game. While everyone loves Winston, most come to watch the athletes. During gameplay, Winston spends most of his time simply trying to avoid photobombing a Lancer photographer’s shots and ruining the live stream for those watching at home.

It’s not all fun and games as Winston, sometimes during a halftime game of musical chairs you might bust a chair, but thankfully for Winston #1, it didn’t come out of their paycheque. That would be a decent chunk of change for a student making minimum wage.

An important factor in the success of a mascot on game day is how receptive the crowd is. Winston never knows what type of crowd he will get.

Winston and the crowd feed off one another, if one is lacking, the other struggles. Sometimes a group of twenty children will follow the knight around and copy every motion like an intricate game of Simon Says. Sometimes even a dance battle will break out.

If it’s a small crowd witnessing an embarrassing Lancer loss, Winston does whatever they can to entertain the crowd and deliver an exceptional game experience. Although, most of the time Winston is left to dance alone.

After the game is complete, Winston lingers around to take a few more pictures with any late-leaving fans, then returns to the confines of the equipment room to take off the sweat soaked body suit.

It’s quiet now. After spending the past few hours being dragged every which way, and dancing like their life depended on it, the actor has a chance to rest. The suit must be washed and dried before the next event so that the next person is not trapped in a coffin of the other’s body odour.

Once the suit is off, they are no longer Winston, they are back to their normal selves.

That is a “standard” day in the life of Winston, and what these three individuals look forward to after a long week of classes.

It is obvious that those who have played the role of the Winston mascot have all immersed themselves with the character, and it has influenced their everyday lives.

Their main pleasure of the role was bringing the inner-child out of everyone, including themselves. Getting the crowd hyped and bringing a positive aspect to peoples day; there is nothing quite like it.

After the first time slipping on the “sweatbox” of a costume, they were hooked, and there’s no going back.

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