Who is the man behind the mask?
It’s a question many Penn students have asked about the Quaker while watching him cavort around campus during New Student Orientation or lead cheers on the sidelines of a football game.
Nowadays, it’s a question that the Penn cheerleading team has to ask of itself.
With a busy schedule for the fall semester looming, the search is on to pick several new students to fill the suit — and to take the strain off the upperclassmen performing the job now.
As it stands now, there are only two seniors and one sophomore filling the mascot’s cartoonish shoes — a fourth student, a junior, is off campus for the semester — and none of them can be everywhere at once. The pressure is on to find freshmen ready, willing and able to step up.
“We’re looking for at least one to two more, possibly adding up to three ,” said one of the senior Quakers, who is required to keep his identity secret. “It’s good to have a larger pool, because the more people we have, the more events we can go to.
“We’d like to be able to cover every sporting event, every request that we get, but the truth is, we get so many requests that we can’t honor because we can’t possibly make the schedule ... so if we had a team of five, six, seven [people], that would give us a lot more flexibility.”
The mandate of keeping a secret identity adds an additional wrinkle to the recruiting process. How can you expect to add freshmen to your ranks when people aren’t even allowed to know who you really are?
A solution to that question has been found in years past at the annual NSO Athletics picnic at Franklin Field. The Quaker and his support staff scan the crowd, looking for enthusiastic freshmen capable of replicating the mascot’s ebullient personality.
But even that tried-and-true method of recruiting has its own inherent difficulties.
“There’s a lot going on [at the Athletics picnic],” the Quaker said. “There’s the volleyball toss, there’s people in dunk tanks, there’s free giveaways, there’s t-shirts, there’s food. So we’re just kind of one thing there competing for attention.
“Also, a lot of people don’t have in their mind, ‘Oh, I should try out to be the Quaker,’ because they assume it’s just not a possibility. So when we’re out there recruiting, it’s hard to make a note that we’re actually recruiting.”
As the Student Activities Fair hums to life, the search for recruits will resume once more, as the cheerleading team has set up the “firstname.lastname@example.org” address for interested parties to contact.
But freshmen aren’t about to get any tips about what the tryout process is like. That will remain a secret guarded as closely as the true identities of the Quaker themselves.
That anonymity does bring with it some perks, though.
“You can put on the Quaker suit and all eyes are on you for a minute. People want to take pictures with you, people care about you, they want your autograph,” the Quaker said. “And then you can take off the suit and be totally fine.”
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