There’s one thing that most people who’ve attended a sporting event have in common: They’ve all been entertained by a mascot, whose identity is usually a well-kept secret – until now. Two area mascots have agreed to emerge from anonymity to describe for Central Penn Parent what it’s like to work as incognito performers.
Life is Tweet for Red Robin Mascot
Karen Simmons said she caught the mascot bug as a child when visiting Hersheypark for the first time: “I loved the Kiss and the Chocolate Bar and said to myself, I can do this.”
Simmons said it was just a passing thought at the time – one would be revisited years later when her son took a job at the Mechanicsburg Red Robin. “I was his wheels and thought that since I was taking him back and forth, that I may as well do something with the company,” said Simmons.
She inquired about the mascot position but ended up in quality control. It didn’t work out. “I was too short for the job. The sell-off table was up to my chest, so once again, I inquired about mascot position – and they gave me a shot at it,” said Simmons.
At the time she was working for the federal government as a U.S. Navy logistician. “I was over 40, but it’s not as if I didn’t have experience working as a bird. When the Harrisburg Horizon was operating as a basketball team, I was a mascot there for five years, dressed as a green-and-orange parrot,” Simmons said.
Simmons enjoyed her role as RED, the Red Robin mascot, so much that she kept at it and celebrates 20 years this year. What she likes is the autonomy Red Robin affords. “I can go wherever I want, as long as I let them know two weeks in advance and the estimated number of hours I’ll be working,” she said. She also reports learning a lot about interacting with the public through Keystone Mascots Training Camp, held at Millersville University.
As for her territory, Simmons said she keeps it local to what she calls her “home nest,” which is the Silver Spring Red Robin. She attends large community yard sales and other events in southcentral Pennsylvania. “The Lehigh Valley Restaurant Group has a sponsorship at BAPS Motor Speedway in York Haven, so I’m always there, and for years I attended Central Penn Parent Night at HACC,” she said.
Autonomy isn’t the only reason Simmons enjoys the mascot job. Another is the smiles it elicits. “People enjoy photo ops and I always make sure I have time for it since the best endorsement is someone who puts the photos out on their social networks.”
You’ll always hear RED coming due to the jingle bells on her large red sneakers. “It’s my way of building anticipation, and children think of Christmas when they hear them,” she said. Simmons also tries to make RED as human as possible. “I’ll try to ride a bike and run races. I was at the Harrisburg YMCA once to cheer on the kids,” she said.
She’s usually the last one to leave the starting line to help stragglers. “I call it sweeping them up and sometimes they respond better to me than they do to their parents,” Simmons said. She also tweets, clucks and even blows raspberries. “Kids will often run up and hug my legs. They also they get plenty of high fives,” she said.
And now for the question everyone wonders about: How do mascots stand the heat inside their costumes during the summer. “It can be 10 degrees warmer inside my costume, so I learned to try to stay in the shade and stay hydrated,” she said.
Simmons said she will continue to perform well into the future as she is able. “It’s become a playful part of my life,” she said.
Truitt Hits It Out of the Park with GRRRounder
As the mascot for the Harrisburg Senators, John Truitt goes by the name GRRRounder. Truitt is no stranger to the mascot menagerie, having worked in high school as a mascot for the Mechanicsburg Wildcats and then again at Messiah College as “Flex the Falcon.”
What attracted Truitt to the role was watching his friends work as mascots and then seeing the reaction on the children’s faces. “My dad is a children’s pastor, and we have a family balloon-twisting business called Top Nozzle, so you could say that making kids smile is in my blood,” he said.
Truitt said that he also learned a lot at Keystone, the same mascot camp Karen attended. “I was a student for one year and a student trainer for two years after that,” said Truitt, adding that mascots learn the tricks of the trade there, from taking care of costumes, health and nutrition while on the job and planning impromptu skits. “I also liked to meet other mascots to talk openly and share stories others may not relate to,” he said.
The Mechanicsburg resident said that he is happy to get back into the swing of things since the Senators were forced to take a season off last year. “I love interacting with a whole bunch of fans of all ages and join them in cheering on a team,” he said, adding that his affinity for baseball has grown since working for them.
Unlike most people, Truitt enjoys the heat. “I love being hot and sweaty. It’s just one of those weird things about me,” he said, adding that he also enjoys playing the role of goofball. “I do weird dances and pull small pranks on people,” he said, adding that he hopes that his passion for children will shine through as he seeks a job in elementary education.
What both mascots said they are looking forward to is getting back to the way life used to be pre-pandemic – only this time they will treasure the smiles even more and regard the interactions as more precious than ever.