Homecoming Flashback: 1995

The following article was originally printed in volume 62, issue 16, special section page 5 of The Maneater. It has been reprinted here as it appeared in the paper in 1995. It is not to be seen as a current news article.

Truman leads roar of Tiger crowds 

Mascots use antics to rouse school spirit, entertain even when games don’t.

By Amy McDaniel, Reporter

For every MU home football game, Andy Jira puts on his uniform and prepares for battle. He dons the Tiger stripes, the black and gold and takes one last drink of water before heading out before the creaming Faurot Field crowd.

And then he falls flat on his face — on purpose. Because Jira isn’t on the team, he’s Truman the Tiger. And you’re less likely to recognize him without his costume, even though he often becomes the center of attention during Tiger blowouts.

This year is Jira’s third as Mu’s mascot. Jira, a junior, has lived in Columbia all his life and said he always thought being Truman would be a great job. Jira is “head Truman” this year, which means he plays the mascot at football and men’s basketball games.

Vol. 62, Issue 16, page 5
Vol. 62, Issue 16, page 5

“My first year, I attended the track meets and volleyball games, and the crowd was much smaller and not as into the event,” he said. “I had to entertain myself more. I did things with props and played around with the kids more.”

As the head Truman, Jira said he has more responsibilities than he used to have.

“It’s kind of like being the captain of a team,” he said. “I have to make sure everything’s flowing well. We have meetings and talk about any problems we’re having. It makes us all do a better job.

“We try to work on general characteristics that we keep the same. We try to walk and sign autographs the same way. A lot of people still don’t realize there’s more than one Truman,” he said.

It may seem as if Truman has been around forever, but the mascot’s name was chosen in a contest organized by the cheerleaders in 1984. Payyt Kespohl, adviser of the spirit squad, said the current costume was designed and first worn in 1986. Before this, MU had two nameless male and female tigers as mascots.

Dan Mears played Truman when he first appeared at the Missouri-Utah State football game. Mears is now K. C. Wolf, the mascot for the Kansas City Chiefs. Truman attends all MU sports events as well as many local functions, so five students take turns being the man behind the mask. Sophomores Matt Hamner, Brad London, Jason Hughes and Dustin Johanssen join Jira in portraying Truman.

Each spring, the five Trumans are chosen through try-outs consisting of an interview and two judged routines, one to the MU fight song and one to the contestant’s own music.

“This year I did a tribute to movies, and Truman dressed up as characters from four different movies,” said Hamner, who is Truman for softball and gymnastics.

Jira said Truman makes one appearance per day on average, but “it’s not unusual to have eight appearances on game day.”

Most appearances last about two hours. Truman attends birthday parties, pep rallies, gas station openings, Alumni Association events and student recruitment activities.

At the sports events, Truman’s antics are mostly spontaneous.

“There are no set routines. You can request music or prepare something, but it’s mostly improv,” said London, the Truman for women’s basketball and wrestling.

Some of this spontaneity involves interaction with the crowd. Truman also makes use of props on the field — and sometimes gets the crowd into the act, too.

“During basketball games, I pull fans out of the crowd and take them out on the court and dance with them,” London said.

After three years, Jira finds it easier to think of ways to entertain the crowd.

“It comes with experience. At first, your mind is blank a lot, but sometimes I have five or six ideas and I can’t do them all at once,” he said. “The whole key is animation. You have to keep all the motions big and exaggerate everything. If something doesn’t work out, you have to change your train of thought and just keep moving.”

Jira occasionally uses props he finds on the spot.

“Once I found this medical cart on the field and the keys were in it, so I got in and drove it around the field. Then I got out, and two guys from the crowd grabbed me and started driving me around in the cart. The cops were chasing them, and they got thrown out of the game. Later, I found out I almost got thrown out, too,” he said.

Hamner said some of Truman’s best and funniest actions come from unexpected sources. Since one of Truman’s most important tasks is to keep the crowd excited, the mascots have to come up with something new at every game.

“My job is to keep the fans involved and make them want to stay to the end and make them want to come back,” London said.

Truman is probably the most well-liked mascot universally, Hamner said. He said people from other schools and towns ask for his autograph.

“Truman’s a good guy and a fun guy. People like that,” Hamner said.

Truman is especially liked by the youngest audience members.

“I know when I was a kid, I went to the games because I knew Truman would be there,” Hamner said. “You can’t always be sure the team’s going to win, but you always know Truman’s going to be there and that he’s going to do something crazy.”

Interacting with children is one of the most rewarding — and one of the most constant — parts of the job, London said. He described an incident in which he accidentally knocked down a little girl.

“She was crying and then she looked up at me and started laughing, and five minutes later she was all over me,” he said.

Another aspect of the job is wearing the Truman costume, which is made by Fiberworks in Houston, Texas.

“Wearing the costume is an interesting feeling,” Hamner said. “When you’re a kid, you have a stuffed animal and you hug it. This is like wearing the stuffed animal.”

But the costume also has disadvantages.

“The worst part of wearing the costume is the heat,” London said. “The average temperature inside the suit is 110 degrees. That’s on a cool day. You don’t realize how hot it is until you take the suit off and your shirt looks like it’s been dipped in a swimming pool.”

Jira has tried on other mascot suits and sees good and bad points to the Truman costume. He said he is fairly mobile in the Truman costume. But despite the appearance of big eyes, the costume limits the mascot’s vision.

London has vision problems of a different kind when he’s in costume. “I’ve lost two contacts already from all the sweat running in my eyes. I tried wearing a bandanna under the football helmet we wear under the head, but the helmet pushed the bandanna over my eyes. I couldn’t see and I had to be led around,” he said.

Despite the problems with the costume, the mascots have many resons to continue being Truman. The excitement and the feeling of being someone else for a while is worth it.

“It’s exciting,” London said. “I love performing and being in front of the cameras, even though it’s not really me out there. It’s Truman. I’m not nervous to do anything because I know it’s not me.”

Hamner said the change of identity allows him to be a greater part of the action.

“If I just walked into the football stadium without the costume, no one would care, but if I go in there as Truman, everyone gets excited,” he said. “I make other people feel better. Being Truman is the best thing I’ve done at MU.”

The long hours, hard work and heat are part of the job. But it’s all worth it for Jira.

“When you see the look on a little kid’s face when he meets you, it makes you want to be a mascot forever,” he said.

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