Pride, passion, push-ups: the faces behind Sparky

It takes more than being an ASU superfan to bring Sparky to life

The mascot at a Division I university is a coveted position, and at ASU, students put hard work into becoming Sparky the Sun Devil, an iconic University figure. 

Alexander Cramer is the assistant manager of Sun Devil Athletics game presentation, which "really entails everything you see and hear at the game that's not within the field of play," he said. Cramer is responsible for overseeing the game experience for baseball, women’s basketball and assists with football — and, he makes the decision on who makes the cut to become Sparky. 

Tryouts are held every spring for the many hopefuls seeking to be a Sparky for the year. Cramer could not disclose how many Sparkys there are simultaneously, but he said there are a handful.  

While Cramer said he has final say, it's mostly in the hands of current mascots. 

“It’s really run by the students who are Sparky,” Cramer said. “The tryouts themselves ... are run by the students.”

He said there are no standard criteria when evaluating a prospective Sparky, but generally the candidates have to be passionate about the job.

“Time management is important, effective communication, making sure they're a standup person who we can trust,” Cramer said.

When a student is chosen to wear the full Sparky regalia, Cramer said he or she gets paired with an interim Sparky to show them the ropes. 

He said it is up to the veterans to teach the rookies the essentials like Sparky’s signature, his mannerisms, how he walks and how he interacts with fans.

Performing at football games is generally an honor reserved for "veteran" Sparkys, he said.

“It’s kind of seen as a perk of the job for seniors and upperclassmen to be Sparky at football games,” Cramer said.

Thomas Shults, who served as Sparky at ASU from 2009 to 2013, is still featured before every football game in the iconic "Stomp the Bus" videos.

“When coach (Todd) Graham first got hired, I was in a meeting with marketing people, and he said what’s something we want to do, and we all looked at each other and said we got to bring back the 'Stomp the Bus,'” Shults said.

He said while this may be the most recognizable thing he did as Sparky, his favorite memories include bringing home the Territorial Cup from UA twice.

“That was something I’ll never forget,” he said. “I have never felt more pride stabbing the pitchfork midfield.”

In his last two years in the Sparky suit, Shults said he was essentially the captain of the handful of students that represent the school as Sparky. However, the transformation from regular student to beloved mascot first starts with a push-up test.

“You gotta be able to do your push-ups,” Shults said.

According to Shults, the first day of tryouts tested the potential mascots’ athletic ability and comfort in the suit. The second day threw the students into a baseball or softball game so current Sparkys could evaluate their skills in a game situation.

Shults said he looked for “the confidence, the swagger, the athletic appeal.”

The traits of Sparky, Shults said, stayed with him. He credited the job with teaching him time management and organization skills, which help with his current job in the entertainment industry. 

“It’s something that really made me better as a person,” he said.

Shults said he is thankful for the incredible experiences as Sparky — from going to bowl games, bringing back Stomp the Bus, seeing historic Sun Devil wins and most importantly, bringing smiles to Sun Devil fans.

“If you don’t love something, then why would you do it?” Shults said. “And I loved every second of being in that suit.”

Jeffrey Thomas, who served as Sparky from 2010 to 2014, commemorated his time by tattooing Sparky’s written signature on the inside of his right bicep.

“It was four years of my life, it was a big part,” Thomas said. 

A current ASU Sparky, who requested anonymity, said the story behind him trying out was a funny one. 

“Me and my friend were joking around," he said. "He said I danced like Sparky.”  

Months later, he said he saw the tryout flyer on Twitter and immediately contacted the email listing to get added to the tryout roster.

When tryouts rolled around in late spring, he said he was nervous but ultimately just tried to have fun with the experience. 

“You can only take it so seriously or you look like a stiff mannequin out there... It’s important to have fun with it,” he said. 

He said he was honored to be chosen for the position. 

“Even to just be considered for the program was really cool to me,” he said. “I try my best to do it with pride and meaning and purpose.”

As for the other Sparkys he works with, he said he can attest to how committed they are too. 

“There’s a sense of pride when we put on the uniform, we represent the school,” he said. “We all bleed maroon and gold.”

 Reach the reporter at or follow @mackinleyjade on Twitter. 

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