MAC Mascot Heads to National Competition
The student who makes Kirby the Cardinal come alive at Mineral Area College events and athletic games took third place in national competition on Jan. 17 at Walt Disney in Orlando, Fla. MAC was the only community college to make it to the national competition, sponsored by University Cheerleaders Association.
Sam Henson of Bonne Terre, a MAC sophomore who graduated from North County High School, came in just behind University of Delaware’s fighting blue hen, YoUDee, and Tennessee Tech University’s eagle, Awesome. To compete at Nationals, Henson placed 5th out of 15 mascots who submitted a video to enter.
“It was nerve-wracking at first,” Henson said. “Thursday, I was especially nervous, but Friday was just fun, being with all the other mascots from participating colleges, sharing stories. I met the mascots from University of Tennessee, Tennessee Tech, LSU, Auburn, University of Wisconsin, Ohio State. They’re a bunch of fun guys.”
Henson credits UCA mascot camps with teaching him much of what he needed to learn about drumming up crowd support and entertaining some of the littlest sports fans.
“Those camps helped a lot,” he said. “You learn how to interact with the fans, how to handle high-spirited kids. I love whipping up the crowd, just by doing something silly in a bird suit.”
Henson got a little practice for the bird suit during high school, when he and his friends decided to suit up in gorilla suits for a few games. “No reason,” Henson said. “Just to be different. We got online and found some gorilla suits and they were pretty cheap. One suit was black and the other one was white, like a yeti. I wore one for all the games I went to, but my friends took turns sharing the other suit.”
Henson said he’s not sure how heavy the Kirby the Cardinal suit is, but it’s “twenty to thirty degrees hotter inside it, that’s for sure.” He said he wears a water pack outfitted with a straw on his back, in order to stay hydrated during his appearances. “The water might start out cold, but it warms up quickly,” he said.
His coach, Paul Fritch, said he’s proud of Henson’s placement at nationals, and the sophomore has worked hard for his achievement.
“He’s somewhat of a natural anyway, he joined our squad just two days before we went to cheer camp, and he placed 5th at camp out of 42 mascots,” Fritch said. “But he really couldn’t have gotten the bid to compete in Orlando without his rocking’ video, and he got help for that from B-104. We all wanted to see Sam go all the way!”
After graduating from MAC and shedding the hot, heavy cardinal suit, Henson said he would like to attend University of Tennessee, where he’d like to major in sports management and don the school’s “Old Smokey” uniform. Fritch said Henson has also been invited to intern with the Nashville Predators hockey team, which sports the saber-toothed tiger Gnash as its team mascot.
Henson is the son of Ewell and Dorinda Henson of Bonne Terre. “I really appreciate them going to nationals with me, and cheering me on,” Henson said. “That made it even more special.”