The wood floor of Wells Fargo Arena, which was routinely used to accommodate Sun Devil basketball, volleyball, gymnastics and wrestling during winter months, had been neglected by the squeaking sneakers of competitive athletes since the arrival of spring—that is, until ASU athletics coordinators gave the arena a new purpose early last week.
With the end of the academic year quickly approaching, a special annual task —picking the University’s next Sparky mascot — became necessary, and the Wells Fargo Arena provided the perfect atmosphere in which to do it.
From 5 to 6 p.m. April 8 and 9, Wells Fargo Arena welcomed 10 students who competed against each other to become ASU’s mascot for the 2014-15 academic year. Three staff members from ASU’s athletic department served as judges.
Josh Richard, the athletic department’s revenue generation coordinator, enjoyed his job as a judge but kept Sparky’s identity under wraps.
“We can’t reveal the name of the man behind the mask,” he said.
Sparky’s true identity is one of ASU’s best-kept secrets, because it is important to the University athletics department that Sparky’s name remains untainted through the decades. However Richard revealed that five students, not one, are associated with Sparky at any given time.
Richard, who has been involved with choosing the “men behind the mask” for two years, said one student from each campus, plus an alternate, is chosen every year to fulfill Sparky’s various obligations across ASU.
Two students who wore the costume in 2013-14 will return to wear it again in 2014-15, he said.
The two returning Sparkys attended tryouts alongside their less experienced competitors, but Richard said all of the aspiring Sparkys were given ample opportunity to hone their skills.
Many had been mascots at their respective high schools, he said, and the tryouts in the Wells Fargo Arena embraced a more educational than competitive atmosphere.
The 10 competing students engaged in a push-up contest and showed off their most impressive pitchforks while in the arena, but the decision about who would be Sparky next year was ultimately made after they attended an ASU baseball game in costume.
While in the Sparky suit, students are expected to capture the attention of enormous audiences and inspire University pride, and this is exactly what each of the prospective Sparkys attempted to do at three baseball games vs. Cal from April 11 to April 13.
“We want Sparky to be personable, active and athletic,” Richard said. “He should walk with confidence and swagger.”
Conrad Bradburn, an athletics department manager who has judged previous Sparky tryouts, said school spirit was also a heavily weighted criterion.
“Important personality traits for Sparky are, first and foremost, a passion for ASU and pride in being a Sun Devil,” he said. “Sparky is a big part of the game atmosphere, and he can really help energize the fans and create a home field advantage.”
Eventually, the students who best portrayed all of these characteristics were selected.
Nursing freshman Michaela Denniston said she hopes future Sparkys will be able to maintain the same energy past Sparkys have brought to the table, and she said she looks forward to seeing them in action next year.
“This year, Sparky did an amazing job,” she said. “I’m a big fan of Sparky, and I love how he keeps everyone going at all the games. He made each event he was at more exciting.”
Contact the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her of Twitter @megannphillips