“They say, ‘Who are you? Who is under the mask? ‘Valluri said with a laugh. “I always have to duck to hide. Once someone flashed the light from their phone through their mouth. That was very close.”
The high school mascot is often a beloved character, a walking, non-speaking embodiment of the school spirit and unironic passion. Not every school has a suit or a student ready to put it on on Friday night. But for those who do, it’s a rewarding relationship for the fan base and the hidden figure.
At Tuscarora in Leesburg, the mascot’s identity is – well – a secret. Valluri inherited the role from her sister, who also kept the duties a secret. When Yaajushi was in eighth grade and her sister Kaushiki was a junior, they went to a basketball game together. Kaushiki told her sister she was not in the mood to be the mascot that night and asked if she would like to fill that out.
“I said, ‘Huh? ‘Said Valluri. “I had no idea. But I put it on and took it over.”
In all fairness, anonymity is one of the things Valluri likes most about the role. Friday night she was able to step back for a while and transform herself into the most enthusiastic, exaggerated human-size dog she could be.
“If someone saw me [my duties] It would be weird without the mask, ”she said. “People would judge me. But when I’m in the mask, I can do what I want. It gives you an extra boost in confidence. “
In Hayfield, Alexandria, Jimmie Linza got that confidence boost in his senior year when he reached out to the sports department and asked if he should become a Hayfield Hawk.
“I’d seen it before and just thought it would be fun,” he said. “I would also recommend it as an activity for someone who is shy. It’s like having your own personality. “
He spent his senior year pumping up the crowd at soccer games and cheers and enjoying the freedom of anonymity. When he got to college at Radford University, he quickly looked for mascot trials. With a year of experience, he won the role with ease. He’s been the Radford Highlander for two years.
“The main thing I like about it is that not only do I represent college, but I also bring the team good luck and momentum,” said Linza.
Some local schools have gotten creative (or just alliterative) with their mascots: in Northern Virginia alone there are the majors, the statesmen, the phoenix, the mustangs, and the lancers. A hawk like in Hayfield is one of the easiest mascots to awaken, but for schools with a more abstract mascot, other avenues of school spirit are explored.
Animals work best when it comes to live mascots. The most popular option in Northern Virginia is a bulldog, which is used by three schools: Hylton, Stone Bridge, and Westfield.
In South County, home of the stallions, the team is known to have a real horse run into the field in front of its entrance. Stallion trainer Tynan Rolander said the equestrian tradition began about five years ago. Some players had a connection to a local farm and then coach Gerry Pannoni asked if they could provide a horse for the pre-game celebrations.
Rolander, who had been an assistant for nine years before taking the position of head coach this off-season, remembers the first game the team brought out one, a full home opener against Briar Woods.
“You would have thought that someone dropped a bomb on the place,” said Rolander. “Everyone – fans, opposing team, our own players, the referees – were all shocked. They didn’t know what the hell was going on. From that point on, it was a great part of the entrance for us. “
With no high school soccer this fall, mascots of all kinds were taken out of circulation. For Valluri, Friday evenings are much quieter. She often spends it playing tennis with her dad or meeting friends for a secluded hangout. She hopes to get into the husky suit again this winter when athletics returns.
“I hope to do it by the time I graduate because it’s just so fun,” said Valluri. “I can’t wait for the football season to start.”