By Lara Korte
It’s a Friday morning and Michael Tobias has chosen to spend his day off from classes in a furry, purple sweatsuit.
Tobias, a criminal justice major at Austin Community College, dons a matching furry purple head before taking the stage in front of a panel of student judges. Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” starts blaring through the speakers, and Tobias busts out the moves.
It’s about as non-traditional as a job interview gets, but for Tobias, it’s a chance to make some money representing the school he loves, and having fun while he’s at it.
“If I’m doing it for the greater good, doing it for the students, doing it for my school, I feel like it’s worth it,” Tobias said.
Every fall, ACC invites students to try out to be one of the half-dozen people that plays R.B. the Riverbat, the school’s official mascot. It can be a fun job, but it’s also hard work, requiring students to wear the costume for hours a time, sometimes in the hot Texas sun and often with limited vision. The judges on Friday were looking for someone who can handle the suit while still maintaining the high energy and enthusiasm of a college mascot.
“This isn’t the type of position that just anybody can do,” said Dahlia Anzaldua-Torres, ACC’s marketing events and mascot manager.
R.B. the Riverbat joined ACC as the official mascot in 2010, after administration and students realized they could use a stronger presence in the community.
“We would go out to events, and even HEB had HE-Buddy,” Anzaldua-Torres said, referring to the grocery chain’s mascot.
Now that he’s been around for a while, more people are starting to recognize R.B. at parades and school events, she said. For the students, playing mascots can be a career. One current R.B. actor, Allen Linares, also works as a corporate mascot for local companies, including one stint playing the Tochy’s Tacos devil. Other students have gone on to play characters in Disney theme parks.
In addition to showing the judges their own choreography, mascot applicants had to demonstrate how they would interact with crowds. Nicolette Krabaoklang, a 17-year-old dance major, said she’d be a great R.B. because she’s already comfortable being energetic and in the spotlight.
“I think people usually do a better job at a job they love,” she added.
Whoever is chosen will go through a mascot training camp where they’ll learn how to emote without speaking and shadow other R.B. actors. When not in costume, students act as one of R.B.’s handlers, who help the Riverbat navigate tricky terrain and stay hydrated.
Although its a lot of physical and logistical work to be a mascot, Krabaoklang said its worth it for a chance to share the joy of her school’s mascot.
“I feel like even the most stoic people can change with a smile,” she said.