The Spirit of Sparky: ASU's first mascot celebrates his 90th birthday

Dick Jacobs was chosen to be the University's original Sparky in 1951

In the 133 years of ASU's history, many aspects of the school’s image have changed — including its name on several occasions — but since his debut in the fall of 1946, mascot Sparky the Sun Devil has been a constant symbol for the University. 

On April 4, the original Sparky, Dick Jacobs, celebrated his 90th birthday.

As the only student who attended the University's mascot tryout that year, Dick Jacobs, a gymnastics enthusiast and physical education major, was chosen to be the first Sparky in 1951, bringing an extra spring in his step to the character of the mascot. 

“Over the years, my dad has shared so many great stories about his time at ASU,” said Tyla Tingle, Jacobs' daughter. “When it was announced they would be holding try-outs for a mascot, my dad auditioned by walking on his hands all the way down the bleachers at the stadium.”

Following his graduation from ASU in 1953, Jacobs' time as Sparky at ASU left a large impact on him and he embarked on an adventure hitchhiking around the world using his acrobatic skills to perform. 

Tingle said his performances included a stint in Pakistan in 1953 where he performed under the name “The Fantastic Adagio Dancer, Dick Jacobs.”

Tingle admires her father’s adventurous spirit and is happy to see the mascot alive and well on campuses today with an energy similar to that of her father's. 

Throughout the years, Sparky has proven to be a symbol for ASU both on-campus and off.


Kristen Briggs, a junior studying health sciences and an ASU football student video assistant, is no stranger to Sparky or his effect on sports fans at football games. 

"I think Sparky is special because he’s different from any other mascot,” Briggs said. “I think he’s one of the many keys to keeping the fans involved the game.”

Briggs films all of the home and away games as well as practices and other football camp events, such as ASU’s Pro Day

Briggs said she had heard about Jacobs and his impact of the character of Sparky, especially in terms of the mascot's athleticism. 

“From what I know he was capable of performing with numerous stunts," she said. "It seems to me he was an athlete himself.” 

Off the field and courts, Sparky can be found around campus and at events hosted by the Programming and Activities Board at ASU that celebrate Sparky and Sun Devil pride in various ways. 

Chris Carlson, the assistant and director of marketing for PAB and a public service and public policy sophomore, said he's noticed the impact Jacobs has had on Sparky's image.

Carlson also noted that sports aren’t the only way to connect Sparky to school pride. 

“Sparky is special because he is not only the face of Sun Devil Athletics but the face of the University,” he said. “I think (Jacobs) was the best person to be the first Sparky. His spirit and enthusiasm from the past has helped secure Sparky as a great college mascot.” 

According to Tingle, it is her father’s mission to live by the words of a poem titled “Success” by Bessie Anderson Stanley which includes many of the traits her father seemed to embody in the iconic character of Sparky.

The opening line of the poem reads: “He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much.” 


Reach the reporter at trivera3@asu.edu or follow @RiveraTaylor21 on Twitter. 

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