The gentle hum of the refrigerated glass case in the cafe is interrupted by the sound of laughter and an exchange of cheery “hellos.” “Hey George!” yells a girl in a red Saint Mary’s sweatshirt. And there he is, always with a smile, lighting up the room. He’s the face behind the Gaels’ mascot, George Emmons.
His positive energy and playful demeanor have been like a spark plug, energizing the crowd of red at Saint Mary’s basketball games. Bouncing up and down in the stands and dancing his heart out, the Gaels mascot has whipped fans into a frenzy.
The SMC mascot has gone through two transformations recently. Before 2008, the Gaels were represented by a knight in shining armor called Gael Force One. With the start of the 2008-09 basketball season, Gael Force introduced a Gaelic warrior with a huge head, bulging muscles, wide grin and a not-so-big kilt.
“The mascot change was a big controversy for the students and the administration,” says Assistant Dean of Student Life Ete Anderson, who says some fans wanted to keep the knight as their mascot. But the cartoon-like warrior who symbolizes the Gaels eventually won their hearts.
But what is a Gael? Is it a bird? Someone’s name? No, a Gael is a person of Irish or Scottish descent. The name was originally bestowed on Saint Mary’s football team because there were so many Irishmen on the team. In true mascot form, the SMC Gael is an Irish warrior, representing the power of passion and hard work.
Emmons knows a lot about both of those qualities. Leading the crowd to be enthusiastic is not as easy as some might think. The mascot’s suit consists of a helmet and layers of heavy felt-like fabric; it’s not made for the comfort of the person inside but for capturing the attention of the crowd.
“It’s extremely hot. Sometimes I have to take a break because the helmet under the mask can hurt,” Emmons says.
The job is even more challenging when the team is losing. “We were playing Gonzaga and were down by 8 points or so. I went out to the front court to start dancing. As I was bouncing around at half court, I ended up mooning Gonzaga, which really got the crowd excited,” Emmons says, recalling one of his favorite mascot memories.
“The mascot is an icon at the games. It gets people going, it gets them pumped. Without it, the games would definitely not be the same,” says Gael Force President Joey Van Loon.
Yet, there comes a time in every performer’s career when they must take on another role in life. As a senior and an Admissions Ambassador, Emmons’ schedule has prevented him from donning the Gael suit this season. For the NCAA Tournament, Mark Carberry, assistant cross-county coach, will don the mascot's mask and uniform.
But Emmons has still found a way to energize Saint Mary's fans. This year, he has appeared at many games wearing a curly red wig, Rob Jones’ numbered jersey, tube socks, double thumbs-up foam fingers – and a face-filling grin. In this comic “Semi-Gaels” getup, he and his cohort, David Lobato, continue to pump up the crowd.
“I love being the mascot,” he says. “It’s been a unique experience that I have really enjoyed. I love the excitement and happiness that I can bring to the SMC community.”
With that, Emmons stands, grabs his bag and heads for the door. Before leaving, he turns and waves, flashing that unforgettable smile.
By Charise Johnson ’12 — SMC Sports Journalism Class, Department of Communication