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Michigan State University

Feature: Meet Sparty--Our Celebrity Mascot

Michigan State University artistic image

Sparty has gained great national visibility lately, a tribute to its cool design as well as to the efforts behind the MSUAA's mascot program. He's our own jolly green giant. Lovable, huggable, and for Spartans of every age, ever so photo-poseable.

Last fall, 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:

  • Last August, Sparty won the 'leadership' award from his peers at the nation's largest mascot camp Milwaukee, WI.
  • Throughout the fall, 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.
  • 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, 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. That was just a few weeks after LoRae Hamilton, '73, became assistant director of MSUAA and adviser for the Student Alumni Foundation--the alumni association's student arm--which now runs the program. 'It happened about six weeks after I joined the MSU Alumni Association,' recalls Hamilton, or 'Sparty's mom,' as some now call her. 'Tom Sapp, from a company in Atlanta, created the design. He came here and did a lot of research 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 (see 'First Sparty,' p. 2), 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, in Hamilton's words, 'is breatheable, flexible and moveable.' It's also 'washable,' a cumbersome task LoRae diligently performs whenever necessary.

The mascot program is run by two SAF members, seniors Jamie Trapp and Tyson Ferguson. 'We do the schedules, coordinate the escorts, make the transportation arrangements,' says Trapp, who, as an escort the previous two years, provided the mascot with water and towels. As he notes, 'On a hot day, Sparty loses from three to five pounds.'

Today five students--their identities kept private--take turns being Sparty with one of two 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 MSUAA, and receives some support from the MSU Dept. of Athletics. Last year, for example, associate athletic director Kathy Lindahl helped Sparty make it to the NCAA volleyball finals in Massachusetts and to the women's basketball NCAA appearance in Connecticut.

'We're always looking for ways to supplement our income,' says co- director Ferguson, who is also an MSU cheerleader. 'We'll do weddings, graduation events, private events, MSUAA regional club events. We just need two weeks notice. A request form needs to be filled.' The cost is $200 per appearance, roughly an hour. Those who have hired Sparty have invariably been more than satisfied, given the mascot's enduring popularity. 'Especially with the kids,' says Hamilton, who adds that only one Sparty will appear at one time. 'Sparty is really like Santa Claus. The kids believe in him. So we never show more than one at a time.'

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 access the MSUAA Home Page ( and navigate to it via the SAF page.

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, and Sparty's mom remains protective of her creation, the MSUAA's mascot program will continue to flourish and provide fans with a distinctive, lovable, and classy mascot--a national celebrity to boot.

SPARTY is featured on the cover of the 1997 Spartan Sports Calendar, produced the the MSU Dept. of Athletics. Major proceeds will help the Spartan mascot program, as well as other organizations that represent MSU athletics for game day events-- the MSU Spartan Marching Band, MSU Cheerleaders and MSU Motion Dance Team.

To order your copy, write a check for $14.95 ($12.95 plus $2 S&H) payable to Michigan State University and send it to Calendar c/o Sparty, Student Alumni Foundation, MSU Union, E. Lansing, MI 48824-1029. 

Author: Robert Bao

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