Springside Chestnut Hill Academy offered a unique opportunity for students this year: get inside the Blue Devil mascot costume.
Richie Blyweiss, 5th grade boys’ math and history teacher, is the appropriate creator of this club seeing that he has been working as a mascot since high school. As a kid, Blyweiss was inspired to get into the business after someone asked him “when is the last time you smiled?” and he immediately thought of the Phanatic dancing at a Phillies game. Blyweiss, who was shy and introverted at the time, said he was terrible at being a mascot at first.
“I was afraid, but I created this persona of a fun, energetic character with the mascot,” Blyweiss recalled. “Over the years, that mascot character became Richie. There was a shift, and I became this talkative, energetic person. It gave me a life.”
With incredibly supportive parents who never missed one of his games, Blyweiss worked hard at being a mascot. He got trained by the original Phanatic, earned almost a full-ride to Temple by working as Hooter the Owl, and has since worked on the mascot teams for every major sport in Philadelphia (and even earned himself a Super Bowl ring for his work with the Eagles!).
“The 16-year-old me would be pretty amazed that I went from this bad performer to someone who built a 15-plus-year career,” Blyweiss said. “The fact that I was able to work with so many amazing organizations and turn this into such a unique part of my life ... that would be shocking to me as a kid.”
Now Blyweiss is giving back by teaching SCH students how to be a mascot. His team now consists of three students who have been participating in around three events per week since the fall. The Upper School students started out putting on the costume and trying out different scenarios, exercising at the gym, and watching professional mascot videos as well as video recordings of themselves in the mascot costume to see what worked and what didn’t. Blyweiss, who serves as their handler when they’re in the costume, helps them as they walk around SCH sports games, giving them tips, and challenging them to demonstrate 15 different expressions of happiness or disappointment. The students said they didn’t realize how hot it would be inside the Blue Devil or how heavy it would be. It was also surprisingly hard at first to learn how to maneuver around in the costume, so they appreciate having Blyweiss as their helper.
The students, who wish to remain unidentified, said they enjoy the anonymity while in costume.
“It makes it a lot easier to convey the attitude of a mascot, I think,” one student said. “I don't have to worry about people knowing who I am and possibly being judged. I can just focus on being the Blue Devil, as opposed to myself inside the Blue Devil.”
One student said she had wanted to be the mascot for some time and didn’t know how to pursue it, so she was excited when Blyweiss made an announcement in an assembly about this opportunity. While she’s a bit shy in person, she feels free to be animated as the mascot. “I can be completely different in the costume,” she said.
“When I am in the costume, I can be funny, happy, or sad, without needing to have those emotions at the time,” another student said. “Plus, being in the costume around the Lower School students makes it feel like this alter ego is a celebrity. Having this mascot that they look up to interact with them I think makes their day better.”
“It's almost like I'm a celebrity or some cartoon character,” one student reflected. “Everyone here knows the Blue Devil, so I'm briefly the center of attention when someone sees me. Another thing I really enjoy is all the excitement I have to exert during games. I have to be the team's biggest fan.”
Blyweiss said he appreciates that at SCH, everyone brings something to the table, and the faculty, staff, and administration have the attitude of: “What is unique about you, and how can you use that to help the people around you?”
"I'm so proud of our students who have chosen to be a part of this team and look forward to working with students who will join in the years to come,” Blyweiss said. “I'm honored to share my knowledge and experiences and train them to be the best mascots possible. We're not just training mascots though—we're showing students new ways to be involved in school athletics, school events, marketing, communications, etc., for their time at SCH and beyond."
Blyweiss, who didn’t love his own high school experience, said if he can give his mascot students even one great memory in high school or give them the freedom to develop their own new persona, he’s happy.