Nine-Year-Olds Got Nothing on These Nine Mascots

I taught nine-year-olds for two years coming out of grad school, and believe me, those kids had nothing on the nine mascots that took part in our recent CAA Basketball Mascot Tour in Baltimore.

The purpose of the tour was to help promote the CAA Men’s Basketball Championship’s move to Baltimore in 2014. I was tasked with manning the conference’s social media efforts during the tour alongside several members of a local public relations team helping lead the day’s events.

Needless to say, given the efforts (and antics) of our nine so-called furry friends, I think we got the word out.

The tour began at the Renaissance Harborplace Hotel, site of our CAA Basketball Media Day. Several mascots arrived earlier than the others, so while we waited, the mascots wasted little time finding their form, greeting (i.e. scaring the hell out of) guests as they got off elevators, getting spanked by security and even taking some time to check in folks at the front desk.

Elevator

Check In

Before heading out to our first stop, we corralled our cast of characters for a photo. The expression “herding cats” certainly applied here. They are a good-looking bunch, though, right?

CAA_0052

Waiting outside for us was Baltimore Trolley, which so graciously carted the group around for the day. There was plenty of room for the gang, including James Madison’s Duke Dog, who if it weren’t for his lack of opposable thumbs could probably start for JMU given that he’s a good 6’6″.

Mascots Trolley

Our first stop was the Under Armour Brand House, where the mascots did everything from play a little hoops to fold some of the apparel. There was also some fooling around with the checkout scanner gun. Oh, and this happened on the counter…

Doc Checkout

It was then off to Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s office. While we waited for the mayor to return from some important business, the mascots rested up and took in a little TV.

TV Mascots

We were then led into an immaculate chamber featuring artwork and furniture that had to be well over 100 years old. The mascots took full (and I do mean full) advantage of the space, with each taking a turn behind the podium, including Sammy, who’s got the whole politician thing down.

Sammy Podium

Mayor Rawlings-Blake arrived to quite a sight. After taking in the fur-filled scene and a little one-on-one time with the league’s lone female mascot, Hofstra’s Kate the Lioness (who had just finished dolling herself up in the 19th-century mirror), it was time for what was the day’s premier photo opp.

mayor

Following a quick return trip to the hotel to greet the media and their head coaches, the mascots joined us at Phillip’s Seafood in the heart of the Inner Harbor. A full spread had been set out for us, and it didn’t take long for the mascots to begin cracking crabs and making a complete mess. Even William & Mary’s Griffin was at a loss at the spectacle.

Griffin

At least Kate was there to help clean everyone up.

Duke Dog Kate

With everyone now stuffed full of seafood, we headed to Federal Hill. Along the way, Drexel’s Mario the Magnificent stumbled upon some long-lost family members.

mario dragons

We also discovered that Towson’s Doc the Tiger has some mad skills on the drums. We thought he was just cattin’ around when he first sat down, so this was a pleasant surprise to all of us and the other Inner Harbor visitors who gathered around for the impromptu show.

Doc Drums

A beautiful view of the city awaited us atop Federal Hill, making the hike up the several flights of stairs very worthwhile.

Federal Hill

It was important that we all stayed hydrated after that climb, as Northeastern’s Paws the Husky took to heart.

Paws Fountain

The next stop on the tour was a highly anticipated one – M&T Bank Stadium, where the reigning Super Bowl Champion Ravens’ mascot, Poe, joined us for a shot in the stands. Love or hate the Ravens, they boast one of football’s cleverest mascots.

ravens

We followed up our trip to the stadium with a visit to the Orioles’ historic Camden Yards, which combines classic ballpark beauty and an updated modern feel to create a great stadium aesthetic. Enough about architecture, though, as we were joined by The Bird, who led our nine mascots onto the dugout for this sweet shot.

camden

A few of us got left behind (not because we were perfecting our dugout dances), so the mascots enjoyed some extra time at Baltimore’s Sports Legends Museum.

museum

The four of us stragglers quickly caught up with the group and we then set off for Baltimore Arena, home of the 2014 CAA Men’s Basketball Championship. The league hopes to see plenty of fans in these lines come March.

arena

Our last stop on the tour was the National Aquarium, where the mascots made friends with one of the dolphins.

Dolphin

Sammy made a friend on the way out as well. Yeah, this is pretty adorable.

Sammy Girl

All in all, it was a highly entertaining and ultimately successful day spent with our nine crazy mascots, thanks to a lot of teamwork…

Teamwork

and a lot of fun.

Scared Lady

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Joey Feminella: Going for the Win

Sure, many NCAA programs adopt kids onto their teams. But few can boast such a powerful and enduring bond like the one my coworker Alex and I had the opportunity to witness firsthand at Stony Brook University this past weekend. Check out the story of 14-year-old cancer survivor Joey and Seawolves Football, which turned out to be one of the more compelling pieces that we’ve produced this fall.

You May Want to Grab a Kleenex

This fall a couple of my coworkers and I are traveling to each of our league’s 11 schools as part of our CAA Football On Campus initiative, which I liken to a small-scale version of ESPN’s College Gameday. One element of our initiative is producing a human interest series that we call Going Deep in which we feature the unique and often untold stories of a student-athlete (or coach) at each of our schools, which range from the University of Richmond right here in RVA to the University of Maine in Orono, which is in fact not on the Arctic Circle like most people would have me believe.

As I’ve told a number friends and fam, telling these stories is probably the most meaningful work that I’ve done to date in this profession. Given that we’re so accustomed to hearing about athletes’ performances on the field – or their wrongdoings away from it – talking with these student-athletes and sharing their manifold stories has been a true pleasure and makes every bit of the grind so worthwhile. We’ve also worked with Comcast to feature these videos during halftime of our television broadcasts, which helps promulgate the stories and what we’re doing to tell them each week.

We’ve visited five campuses thus far and have another six to go through the end of November. I wanted to share the five Going Deep features that my exceptionally talented coworker Alex Souza and I have produced thus far. They’re released along with our other On Campus content (you know I’m all about those campus tours) every Tuesday morning on CAA Football’s official Every Day Is Saturday blog. I’ll continue posting the videos here on the blog as well.

Disclaimer: Not only will you hear my voice in a couple of them (holla), but you may want to grab a Kleenex, especially for this first one…

When Sports Transcend the Playing Field

Dooling Collins

Working in sports for several years now, I’ve increasingly come to realize how truly sports transcend what takes place on the field, court, etc. I’ve been following a couple of stories recently that I believe exemplify this and wanted to share them here.

The first has undoubtedly been one of the biggest news stories of the year – Jason Collins coming out as the first openly gay active athlete in a major professional team sport (the media has learned to be very precise in its phrasing here). I credit both Collins for his courage and Sports Illustrated for giving him license to self-author his story in its magazine.

While most of us are aware that Collins has come out, I’d encourage you to read his article and some of the ensuing coverage (some found via the link above). His story is a huge step for sports, and I think the overwhelmingly positive reaction to his revelation, particularly from the sports community, speaks volumes for where we as a society are headed. I’d say a personal call from President Obama is pretty substantial as well.

Another story that I came across shortly before the Collins news broke was that of fellow NBA player Keyon Dooling in the Boston Globe. Dooling, who I’ve followed for years now given his Mizzou roots, has publicly disclosed that he was sexually abused as a pre-teen. A concerning incident last summer soon landed him in a debilitating mental health care situation until the likes of Celtics head coach Doc Rivers stepped in to intervene.

After undergoing the necessary care and the likely lifelong healing process, Dooling has now not only gone public with his news, but he has also begun speaking out as an advocate for sexual abuse victims.

As Collins notes in his article, it often takes a major event – in his case the Boston Marathon tragedy – to put things in perspective. I applaud him and Dooling for publicly sharing their stories, thereby allowing us to join them for the ride.

There’s a great deal we can learn from athletes like Collins and Dooling. The lessons are many and come in the form of self-discovery, courage and acceptance, to name a few. We all experience joys and challenges in our everyday lives – some more momentous than others – and perhaps their stories go to show we should let others in a little more often.

Moreover, I always enjoy seeing athletes and others largely in the public eye using their platforms to break down stereotypes and to advance the greater good. I’m confident that others will now follow Collins’ and Dooling’s lead, and we as a society will without a doubt be better off because it.

Oh Hail Yeah!

hail yes

I’m a huge fan of T-shirts – as in I easily own 100 – and this one immediately caught my eye as I made my way through my Instagram feed yesterday. The NFL was peddling these clever tees at Radio City in NYC – site of the NFL Draft – this past week and in the process showed it could have a little fun with the criticism of its decision to hold next year’s Super Bowl at the non-domed MetLife Stadium in Jersey.

True, any three of these weather conditions could potentially strike the Metropolitan Area come next February 2, but let’s remember this is football, folks; a game where inclement weather is often embraced and can make the gameday experience all the more memorable.

I must admit it would be pretty incredible if the game actually came down to a Hail Mary pass. Equally incredible would be da Bears making it to the Super Bowl, but the likelihood of that happening is about as good as Mother Mary herself returning to throw the game-winning pass.

Lots of Inspiration to Stand as One With Boston

Martin Richards Sign

After tragedies like Monday’s Boston Marathon bombings, many of us search for a way to help, as evidenced by the many inspiring stories of good being done in the aftermath of the attack and over the past several days. I know that finding a way to give back was one of my prevailing thoughts after my initial senses of shock and horror began to dissipate.

Today I heard about a “Boston stands as one” tribute T-shirt being sold by Boston Marathon sponsor adidas, which will donate 100% of the proceeds to the One Fund Boston founded in Monday’s aftermath to help support the victims of the bombings and their families. Mens and women’s styles are available, both featuring a blue and yellow theme – the colors of the Boston Athletic Association that coordinates the marathon – for a very race-appropriate cost of $26.20.

I immediately bought a tee to serve as a tribute to the victims, their families, all of the marathoners, the authorities and the people of Boston. I figured another way to give back at this point is to spread the word about the various ways to give back, which is my aim here.

If a tee isn’t your thing, then check out One Fund Boston and The Salvation Army’s Boston Emergency Services Fund. Another awesome resource is the Boston Marathon’s Crowdrise site listing a ton of teams and individuals to which you can donate. It’s amazing to

In addition to that, I’d encourage you to get out and go for a run to honor those affected as well as to take some time to pray, which I like to think is the most powerful option. Oh, and call your loved ones and tell them you love them!

I wanted to end this post with several inspirational things I’ve seen in the news over the last several days…

The fans at Wednesday’s Bruins/Sabres game stepped in after Rene Rancourt had difficulty overcoming his emotions while singing the National Anthem (occurs around 3:00 mark)…

In a clear display of support, the archrival Yankees paid tribute by playing Sweet Caroline during Wednesday’s game against the Diamondbakcs…

I also wanted to share President Obama’s speech made at today’s  interfaith service in Boston. I point to two statements in particular: “Your city is with you. Your country is with you. We will all be with you as you learn to stand and walk and yes, run again.” and “It should be pretty clear by now that they picked the wrong city to do it. Not here in Boston. Not here in Boston.”

Lastly, the Chicago Tribune featured a very classy tribute on the front page of its Sports Section on Tuesday. I thought this was incredibly well done.

original

Kimmel Cracks Classic Kobe Joke

L.A. Lakers star Kobe Bryant, who I thoroughly enjoy despite popular sentiment against him, visited Jimmy Kimmel Live this past week. He and Jimmy eventually got on the subject of Dennis Rodman’s recent (and random) trip to North Korea, during which “The Worm” told DPRK leader Kim Jong Un, “You have a friend for life” while watching an exhibition basketball game.

While I could write at length about my views on Rodman’s visit, I’d rather focus on another joke — the one Kimmel dropped on Kobe during his interview. The setup for the joke comes about 1:40 into the video, but the pair’s banter makes the entire vid worth watching.