RITchie: Inside the Suit
by Liz Peterson | published Feb. 5th, 2016
Have you ever wondered who exactly gets to be our loving mascot, RITchie the Tiger?
Most students on campus feel that the identity of our mascot will always be a secret. Some would even go so far as to call those who have worn the costume as members belonging to a cult, but there's more to it than an underground society of mascots. We got the name for our beloved mascot from a contest. In 1989, a third year COLA student by the name of Rick Mislan came up with the name, RITchie, to replace RIT's current mascot's name, SpiRIT.
However, our current executive athletic director, Lou Spiotti, likes to think that RITchie's name was selected to embody the personality of an unforgettable Tiger Hall of Famer, Ritchie Herbert. Herbert, a star hockey player of the 1980s, was well liked and quite popular around campus, having a lot of school spirit during his time here. The athletic department looks for this type of character when it comes to selecting, recommending or asking a student to play the part of RITchie the Tiger.
"We make sure that RITchie doesn't scare children, said Spiotti. "We also have to make sure he doesn't scare anyone."
Once upon a time there was a pecking order on who would get the honor to be RITchie, but as students watched teammates and friends step into the suit, many began to volunteer themselves with enthusiasm.
Within the athletic department, RITchie has become a tradition amongst the student athletes and student workers. Friendly, excited individuals are usually picked for the part, but many students fit those specifications. They take large measures to ensure that RITchie is upheld as an ideal mascot role-model. From the expensive price tag attached to the costume to hiring "Tiger Trainers" who are responsible for acting as escorts and bodyguards to RITchie at public events, the athletic department makes sure that RITchie is taken care of.
Unsurprisingly, mascots, those in the suit and the suit itself, get abused. The uniform gets grabbed or the person in the suit wears the costume incorrectly. The Tiger Trainers, often notable at sporting events such as the hockey games, are charged with the task of making sure that doesn't happen as well as making sure the person in the suit can get around without bumping and stumbling about. As Spiotti would put it, RITchie is "a rallying point, but also a set of comfort." We Tigers crave that familiar face around campus, especially our student athletes. For them it has become a sense of pride. In their culture, it has become a golden rule down in the athletic department: do not step on the tiger painted on the floor underneath the Clark Gym and Ritter Ice Arena.
It is how you tell the student athletes apart from students just passing through. It is not entirely a cultish behavior, but more that the athletes attribute their success and their passion to the Tiger that adorns their uniforms. As RIT's pride continuously grows, RITchie is needed for more than just sporting events but for orientations and alumni events as well. Our mascot has become a phenomenon across campus.
For Jessica Gallagher, a third year biomedical sciences major, she didn't have to be a student athlete to wear the suit.
"I was RITchie during New Student Orientation in August of 2014," Gallagher said. "I wore the outfit for an hour and a half round noon during freshman move-in day."
Now, we all know how hot it typically is on freshmen move-in day. To be in a customized mascot uniform that has terrible ventilation in 90 degree weather for nearly two hours could be seen as punishment. However, regardless of the working conditions, Gallagher doesn't regret her decision in volunteering to be RITchie.
"It was definitely something that I’m happy I did," she said. "As Ritchie, you can be as happy and goofy as you want because everyone loves it. People of all ages came up to me to high five me and take pictures. I would walk with an escort around the field house or parking lots and high five others or dance around. I would take pictures with families and students as they came up to me."
Gallagher also went on to describe the selection process. In one of the instances that the athletic department didn't get to select RITchie, but simply lent out one of the two suits they have in air conditioned storage, the Orientation staff had their Student Orientation Coordinators search for Orientation Assistants interested in the chance to be the Tiger. It was an unforgettable experience but Gallagher admitted she wouldn't be RITchie again.
"I wouldn’t because I have already been Ritchie," she said. "I want other students to have the chance to be Ritchie and see what it’s like. Not many students have the opportunity so I don’t want to take the chance away from someone else."
There is a possibility that many students and even faculty that have had the chance to be RITchie feel the same way, which is why it is such an honor and privilege to wear the mascot uniform. For Rob Newell, a fourth year molecular bioscience and biotechnology major, he would be RITchie again in a heartbeat if he could. In 2013 he also was RITchie for freshmen move in day, but he got to reprise the role for a Tiger Den rowing event when he was on the men's crew team.
And even though it was very hot out for both events, Newell doesn't regret it.
"Mascots always bring a smile on people's faces and it allows you to have a lot of fun with it," he said. "I danced, ran around, playfully teased people and it's always funny to see a mascot doing that."
If he could skate well, Newell would love to be RITchie on ice. However, Newell didn't have to be a keen skater to qualify for the job either time. He simply had an ideal height for the costume at 5'9" and was known for being a goofball outside the costume, the exact kind of student Spiotti and the athletic department desire for the job. Though he didn't see too many setbacks when it came to being a giant tiger with warm smile plastered on its face, Newell admitted to the struggle of being in the suit.
"I didn't realize how big the head of the suit was until I tried to get into a golf cart and fell because I hit the head on the roof," said Newell. "Also, sweat in your eyes coupled with low amounts of peripheral vision makes having a handler a necessity."
Every mascot is charged with the responsibility of getting the whole campus hyped. It's a task that RIT students clearly do not take lightly. Our school has transformed over the last couple of decades, and though our school is still primarily academic focused, it is a wonderful thing to see students get excited to display their school spirit. Sure, the helmet head of RITchie reeks of sweat from various students, but the helmet itself stands for something greater. RITchie serves as a monument to the immense pride we have built as an university. As long as the Tiger sticks around, it will continue to be a beacon of all RIT is and what it still can become.