Creating Clyde: The tale of Clyde the Cougar

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Beloved by students and members of the Charleston community alike, nothing is more synonymous with College of Charleston athletics than Clyde the Cougar. The mascot we know as the supplier of school spirit, pumping up the crowd at sporting events and greeting nervous newcomers at orientation, has changed dramatically over the years.

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(Photo by Kaleb Dill)

As stated in “True Maroon: An Illustrated History of Athletics at the College of Charleston,” until the 1970-71 school year, the College’s mascot was the ‘Maroons.’ A step away from ‘Redskins,’ the mascot was recognized by the student body as offensive, so an election was held to determine a new mascot. In the first round of voting, candidates dwindled from 10 to two, as students eventually chose between Colonials and Cougars. However, the will of the students in the runoff election was overlooked. The men’s and women’s athletic associations on campus, led by  presidents’ Micki Miller and Remley Campbell, announced the newly minted ‘Cougars’ nickname without ever counting the votes.

The hasty interceptors of the Cougar sought a new mascot name, yet it was not until 11 years later that the Cougar became Clyde, thanks to the vision of a wide-eyed freshman. When Todd Crowe stepped on campus in the fall of 1982, he felt school spirit was extremely low. He walked across the Cistern in May of 1986 in the uniform he made famous, leaving paw prints that no one has filled since.

“The basketball program was the spotlight of the athletic department,” Crowe said. “At times, there was a stuffed animal there to kind of represent the Cougar. We had a rag tag uniform that some folks would drag out of the closet and put on and walk around the gym but there was no continuity to his appearance; he didn’t have a name.”

Between the plush stuffed animal and the helter-skelter Cougar by committee approach, Crowe saw an opportunity. The College was a small, fast-growing school, and looking to other university’s athletic departments, Crowe recognized the need for engagement with fans to improve attendance. But to best engage the fans, the Cougar needed character.

“Once I got permission to be the guy, I took the rag tag uniform and I spruced it up as best I could with costumes and accessories,” Crowe said. “Some of those accessories were a pair of oversized sunglasses, and a Hawaiian shirt… I would sit in a lounge chair behind the basket like I was relaxing at the beach to watch the Cougars play.”

Prowling along the sidelines and through the crowd as Clyde developed a personality, the question remained, what should we call this thing?

“The Cougar needed a catchy name,” Crowe said. “The cheerleaders, folks associated with athletics and some of my friends, we just batted around different names… and we thought, well, Clyde the Cougar.”

Crowe, now an anesthesiologist in upstate South Carolina, could be considered the father of Clyde the Cougar. But if he proved anything, it is that being Clyde is no walk in the park, or at least not a comfortable one, as the suit provides one of many challenges to perform as a mascot.

“There’s a lot of sweat equity that was put into being the character,” Crowe said. “So, at times when you’re in there and it’s two games back-to-back and you haven’t been able to have any rest, but each and every time a child would look up at you and reach for you and smile, that was always the best part of being Clyde.”

Business as usual:

untitledAs the trailblazer for live mascots at the College, on the job training made up most of the learning curve for Crowe. With no one to turn to for tips and experience, aspects of the mascot’s act needed to be ironed out.

“Mascots were beginning to use the mini-tramp to perform athletics,” Crowe recalled. “Going off a mini-tramp during a television timeout… against the Baptist College, now known as Charleston Southern. I went up in the air off the mini-tramp, and I remember having the helmet turn sideways as I went up with the ball in hand to do a dunk. So, Clyde being completely blinded, with a 90 degree turn of his head, missed his dunk in front of the Charleston faithful and then hit the backboard and crashed down on the basketball arena floor. Getting a standing ovation from the Baptist College fans was probably one of my lowlights.”

Beyond individual style choices, one of the biggest differences between Crowe’s Clyde and the way he is performed today is the number people who have filed the suit.

“There are about four or five Clydes that cycle throughout just because you have so many events that you can’t really have one person doing it,” said Dante Curcio, a 2016 graduate of the College.

Shortly after he began his sophomore year, Curcio pursued the role of Clyde.

“It was something I had never thought of until the opportunity presented itself,” Curcio said. “The opportunity was there, I was looking for a part time job, so I went and essentially tried out, which was putting on the costume and walking around the arena, making sure you can do the movements, the motions and pretty much see where you’re going because it’s tough to see with that helmet on.”

Building up to athletic events, Curcio earned his chops on campus at events before eventually having the opportunity to staff games at Patriots Point and TD Arena.

“It’s not like I started out at the Homecoming basketball game the first time I did it, you know. I was going around on campus, just doing walk bys. You know at the orientations, right before school started, walking around. So I guess that was my way of learning how to be Clyde, by going to these places where you’re just walking around, meeting with just a lot of random people who are walking by, so you learn what you want to do, and what is best for Clyde.”

Among the toughest issues for new mascots is the transition to anonymity. By nature, a mascot is supposed to be the both easily distinguished and anonymous, which is a bit of a paradox. The member of the audience tasked with impassioning the crowd also needs to conceal their identity.

“Sometimes I would go up to people, make some gestures, and they would have no idea who I was,” Curcio said. “Then well after the fact I would tell them, but I mean basically you have to do it ‘business as usual.’”

Unfortunately for any of the incarnations of Clyde, the South Carolina climate makes working in a furry costume quite difficult.

“I know Clemson’s mascot, they actually have a fan inside the head so it regulates the temperature,” Curcio said. “That’s something that we do not have, but I would say how hot it is would probably be the toughest part and just how much you sweat. Jessica [Rodgers] and everyone who runs the Clyde situation is really good about making sure you get enough water and stuff, but I mean it gets really hot. It’s a workout when you’re done with it, that’s for sure.”

Curcio’s welcoming attitude to the heat was not shared by Crowe, who recalls one of Clyde’s appearances in the Charleston Christmas Parade.

“There was one year that I walked the entire route, but it was a balmy 85 degree December day and at the end of the walk, I was completely exhausted and dehydrated,” Crowe said. “My two assistants thought that once I reached the end of the parade route that I was all good, but I needed help getting out of the Clyde uniform because of the way it was secured on. So when I turn around and my escorts were gone, Clyde had to hitchhike home after the Charleston Christmas Parade, in his uniform, because you never, never take your helmet off in public.”

The selfless Crowe acknowledged the importance of maintaining Clyde’s pristine image. After all, he was just honored in a city parade.

“You don’t let people see Clyde without being in full costume, so I had to hitchhike back to my apartment,” Crowe said. “I had a nice Charlestonian who was happy to give Clyde a ride home until he realized that I had been sweating for hours. I think he sped through downtown Charleston to get me out of his car as quickly as possible.”

Though in the early days of Clyde, Crowe may have faced a more stringent washing schedule with the uniform, today Clyde gets a bath after every wear.

“They have probably four separate suits but they only have two helmets,” Curcio said. “And to clean a helmet, you can’t put it in a washing machine and dryer, so they don’t get washed frequently because it has to be professionally done. But the other parts are always washed.”

Given the anonymity of the mascot, keeping the suit clean and not taking the head off in public are keys to keeping a happy relationship between the mascot and fan. Though this relationship is easily distinguishable today, it has not always been so clear.

“One of the most infamous stories about Clyde was Director of Alumni Affairs Tony Meyer came up to me one year and he said that he had a friend who had always wanted to be Clyde,” Crowe said. “I was very wary of letting other folks put on the costume because I had created Clyde as a special type of character with a special type of walk and personality, but he was one of my dear friends and I said ‘ok.’”

Yet, Crowe quickly learned that the goodwill that he had built up with the fans was fickler than he had realized.

“Her version of Clyde was to wreak havoc on the athletes themselves,” Crowe said. “So she proceeded, as Clyde, to go out and mess with the basketball players. Stealing the basketball from them during warmups, messing with their hair, untucking their shirts and completely serving as a distraction to warm ups. All the time, the [men’s basketball] coaching staff, including coach [John] Kresse are thinking that this is the normal Clyde, who’s completely lost his mind in the uniform.”

By today’s standards of Clyde, sharing the load at different events is par for the course, but in his infancy, Crowe was sure to protect young Clyde from anyone who could further defame the name.

“Until I graduated, no one ever wore the costume,” Crowe said.

Clyde gives back:

The age-old idiom states, beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. With regard to mascots, the foremost beholders are children.

“On campus, some people are even afraid of mascots but others don’t care, they’ll kind of just walk by, but when you go and deal with a lot of 7 to 12-year-old’s then they absolutely love it,” Curcio said. “Going to the Ronald McDonald house, I felt really good about doing that because these are kids who have been through so much. For them to get even 20 minutes, 30 minutes of excitement from something new, that was really great and you could tell how much they loved it.”

The innocence of youth affords Clyde a captivating audience, but no one in that audience would have claimed it to be the most important day of their life. Or at least that audience.

“I think I was the only one to be Clyde at a wedding,” Curcio said. “I was Clyde at two weddings. It was just people who had graduated from the College of Charleston. Both times the bride had no idea so it was really cool. So the groom set it up so right after the cake comes out, I would show up on the dancefloor when the music would get going.”

Next time you see Clyde on the prowl, consider life without Clyde and the support he garners from the campus community. And be thankful for fans who put school spirit before their own fandom to better the athletics experience.

“I think if anyone gets the opportunity to do it, it’s such a fun job,” Curcio said. “I absolutely loved it, you’re bringing so much school spirit to the area, and you’re helping out so many little kids, who just love seeing mascots and whatnot. I definitely would do it again if I could.”

*This article first appeared in the November 2016 issue of The Yard.

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