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UPDATE: Nittany Lion Mascot 'Rumors' Not True, Says PSU Athletics Official

on August 26, 2010 9:53 PM

UPDATE @ 9:53 p.m. Thursday: In a written statement released through Penn State President Graham Spanier, Associate Athletic Director Greg Myford has addressed and refuted what he called "rumors" surrounding the Nittany Lion mascot program. Here's the full text of Myford's statement:

"The rumors currently circulating regarding the addition of Nittany Lion mascots are not true. The popularity of the Lion and the demands for him to appear at all sorts of Penn State gatherings, near and far, presents an annual challenge and discussion re: how best to prioritize where and how often the Lion appears. That was the purpose and agenda of the referenced 'meeting next week' that triggered misinformation and speculation that more mascots would soon be appearing. There are no plans to change who is entitled to wear one of Penn State’s most coveted uniforms."

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Earlier report, posted @ 6:15 p.m. Thursday:

For Penn Staters, few jobs are more distinguished than serving as the Nittany Lion mascot.

It's a role rife with tradition: the one-armed push-ups, the ear-scratching, the spontaneous back flips.

Tradition also dictates that only one person gets the grueling job. Each year, just one student is designated to fill the furry suit and perform at the more than 250 events where the Lion is wanted. Only in very rare circumstances does a substitute step in.

But a new proposal may threaten to upend the exclusivity of the role, former Lion mascot Chuck Kimble said Thursday.

He said a phone call from "someone within the administration" alerted him to the situation. Kimble said he understands the proposal would allow as many as four students per year to be the Nittany Lion, enabling the mascot to make many more appearances at alumni events and on television, including the Big Ten Network.

Kimble said he understands a university meeting slated for next week will center on the proposal. Inquiries left with the Penn State athletic-communications department were not immediately answered Thursday.

"To me, it sounds like dollar signs are written all over it," said Kimble, who was the Lion from 2000 to 2002. He said the proposal appears to hold little regard for tradition.

"I think it'll come to a point where fans will say, 'Which lion is this?' instead of, 'Oh -- that's the Lion,'" Kimble said.

Penn State is unique in appointing just one person to serve as the mascot, Kimble said. He explained that many other universities allow several people to split up and share mascot duties.

But the Nittany Lion -- who crowd-surfs, runs and otherwise shows off his own strength -- is a particularly athletic breed of mascot, Kimble said. Audiences get to know the nuances of his moves, his skills, the acts he can perform.

Bringing in multiple Nittany Lions, former Penn State mascot athletes have said, could diminish the Lion's consistent, even performances.

"The whole allure to the Penn State Nittany Lion mascot is the fact that there's only one," said former mascot James Sheep, of Philadelphia, who held the position from 2007 to 2009. "People know that -- people know that there's only one."

Likewise, he said, Penn Staters of different eras have special attachments to their respective Lion mascots. Sheep, standing six feet four inches, was the tallest Lion mascot on record and was known for his dance moves. The current Lion mascot, meanwhile, has a reputation for his sharp gymnastics.

"When the Lion shows up to an event, it's the Lion," said Kimble, who now works in Allentown. "Students know what they're getting; alumni know what they're getting. ... It's the same guy at everything. People rely on that."

Only 47 men have been the Nittany Lion mascot. Kimble said he learned about the apparent proposed changes on Wednesday afternoon and soon began alerting this fellow former mascot athletes.

By Thursday afternoon, he said, a dozen of them had already voiced concern about the idea.

"I can understand the university's interest in expanding the number of appearances by the Lion mascot. It's a tribute to the Lion's popularity," said Andy Bailey, of Pittsburgh, who was the mascot from 1975 to 1977.

On one hand, he said, that popularity "is great to hear. On the other hand, I've always been a believer that less is more. In this case, it would be a sad day if this tradition were lost."

Bailey said each person who wears the Lion suit develops "a personality that's unique. And I think you'd really dilute that" with multiple Lion mascots.

"I'd be concerned that you really don't have one individual who's developing a personality -- a spin, so to speak -- for the Lion," Bailey said. "Everybody's a little bit different, and that's not a bad thing."

Candidates for the mascot job go through an intense tryout process. A fair amount of skill can separate the top performer from the second-, third- and fourth-place contenders, according to people who know the tryout process.

And even if there's not a big skill difference between the first- and second-place candidates, Kimble said, they all have different styles that public audiences would notice.

He also said that university President Graham Spanier, who occasionally sports the mascot suit himself, "respects the integrity of the position.

"I can't think he'd really be in support of saying, 'Let's bring on four or five and let them run all over campus,'" Kimble said.

Kimble said he is encouraging Penn Staters to put their opinions in e-mail messages and send them to Spanier, university athletics Director Tim Curley and cheerleading Coach Curt White.

Spanier, reached via e-mail Thursday afternoon, indicated that he had heard nothing about the reported proposal to alter the mascot program. He reported that he would look into it.

StateCollege.com will continue to follow and update this story.

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