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Old 04-05-09, 12:24 AM
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Top dog: Husky mascot travels to two Final Fours

Maybe it's compensating for something, but for a little state, Connecticut tends to do things big.
According to the U.S. Department of Commerce 2008 analysis, Connecticut has the highest per capita personal income in the nation. Growing up in Connecticut, I've heard all the knocks: You know you're from Connecticut if your family has more cars than legal drivers … if you own a polo shirt for every day of the week … if your family flies a UConn flag and has two UConn bumper stickers.
In keeping with its tradition of excess, Connecticut basketball made profits of more than $6 million in 2008, and this season it is sending two basketball teams to Final Fours.
Which led my Connecticut-educated brain to wonder, if the men's and women's hoop teams are both dancing to a title, how does the Huskies' mascot manage his time? After all, if you grew up in Connecticut, you surely know that UConn's hallowed husky mascot's name is Jonathan (and you were devastated when you heard the news that a ruptured-spleen mishap ended the days of "The Husky Slide" across the Civic Center floor).


We called up the athletic department in Storrs in hopes of getting a peek under the hood of Jonathan's head, but alas, it is strict policy of the athletic department to "keep the mystique of the husky." That's why, said UConn spokesman Mike Enright, the student mascots aren't allowed to talk to the media.
Fair enough, but the questions still remained: How does the Husky do it? Like St. Nick making the magical rounds, I envisioned a sled dog in the sky cruising from Detroit to St. Louis. I just had to know. Luckily, UConn cheer coach Neal Kearny was willing to provide some how-tos of Jonathan, even while guarding the who's who.
OK, how does the Husky do it?
Kearny: Actually, there are seven individual husky dogs at the university. There's one for men's basketball, women's basketball, football, soccer, volleyball …
So you have one mascot for the men's team and one for the women's team?
Yes, we have to. We have two totally separate cheer teams, too. The blue team and the white team, and they each have their own husky mascot.
Is it hard to find seven worthy husky dogs -- er, student mascots each year?
It's hard to narrow them down. I had over 60 kids try out this year.
What's the tryout like to be the UConn husky?
We have them put on the suit, see how they look in it. Then we have them show us happy, show me sad, that kind of stuff. We give them scenarios, much like an acting tryout for a part -- we are down by two, we launch a 3-pointer at the buzzer and it goes in, what's your reaction? Or, show me your reaction to a crying kid.
How do you select the top dog for the big games?
Performance through the year and interaction with fans at games determines that, plus their class year. The best mascot can choose if they want to go with the men's team or the women's team. This year, he opted to go with the women.
No wonder they're undefeated -- they have the very best sixth man. Does the mascot travel with the team or are they left to shop Priceline with a mysterious fuzzy carry-on?
No, they fly chartered flights with the team and their dry-cleaned suit.
How much does a husky suit cost, anyway?
About $2,500 per suit.
You've been the coach for 22 years. How many Husky suits have you seen come and go?
Um, they last about 2 or 3 years. We get a new one almost every year, and the old ones are rotated.
Expensive threads, someone to pick up your dry cleaning, chartered flights -- the husky dogs have it pretty good.
Yeah, and one of their favorite perks is that they're outfitted by Nike, too. Just like the rest of the team.
OK, just give me something to go on about these Final Four-bound mystery mascots. What are they like? Are they athletes? Gymnasts? Just dog lovers?
Well, our mascots don't do too much stunting with the cheer team, they're only hoisted up in pyramids, so the kids are more actors than gymnasts. One of the husky mascots is a puppetry major, and two actually work at Six Flags as costumed characters, so they really have a sense of animation. One husky is an actuary science major, one's a biology major and I have a psychology major, too. So there's a lot inside all those suits. But we like to keep it that way.


Mary Buckheit: Busy weekend for Connecticut mascot - ESPN Page 2
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