Behind the mask: the stories of mascots

At The University of North Alabama, students, faculty and alumni carry with them the title of being a “lion.” Many students take this title seriously, but Chase Cummins and Andrew “Andy” Farish go above and beyond in their lives to truly become a lion. The UNA family know Cummins and Farish as mascots Leo and Una.

From university football games to local church events, Leo and Una give the community a true sense of what UNA spirit truly means. Starting with tryouts, the person behind the suit has to have confidence and creativity, according to cheer and dance administrator and associate athletic director for marketing and annual giving.

“That’s my favorite part about it,” Mrs. Dye said. “Seeing them make it their own.”

When trying out, mascots must create a one minute skit constructed solely by themselves using music and props. This allows those trying out freedom to be creative and immerse themselves into the character. Both Farish and Cummins were able to show off their skills to three judges, who also judge cheer tryouts.

Farish takes on Leo’s character, while Cummins takes the role as Una, and occasionally Leo.

Farish, a sophomore studying cinematic arts, was a part of his cheer team during his time at Prattville High School, and has played the role of Leo for the last two years. He landed himself his position as Leo his freshman year, initially only intending to be a cheerleader for UNA, but saying, ‘why not?’ led him to the role.

“So far I’ve enjoyed it, maybe more than cheer,” he said. He recalls his tryout for this school year, telling the Flor-Ala, “I saw a movie I liked [and] I kind of took [a] scene, made a skit, and it turned out really great.”

Much like Farish, Cummins had different intentions coming out of high school. Coming out of Double Springs, AL, Cummins had experience being the mascot, as he was Mr. Sting for Winston County High School his senior year, but he did not originally see himself at UNA. Applying on a whim, he was accepted and took some of the first steps of his journey by attending mascot tryouts. He was imprinted on at a young age by Auburn University’s mascot, Aubie, and found himself drawn closer and closer to mascotting.

“I was actually very nervous because I only had one year experience,” Cummins states. “It was a really cool experience because that was my first actual tryout.”

Leo and Una play an important role not only to the fans and the community, but according to Cummins, also to UNA’s teams.

“My theory is if the crowd and stuff is up and going, and they’re pumped, that gets the football players pumped. I think having crowd interaction plays a big part in any kind of sport. I think that’s a major part, and you can’t really do that without spirit.”

The spirit UNA’s mascots bring to the games and in the community is unmatched. They appear as Leo and Una at parades, community happenings, UNA events, and much more. Both men say that they enjoy working with the kids in the community and seeing the excitement around them.

“The kids think it’s real, so it has that charm to it,” Farish said.

The hardest part to him about playing his character, Leo, is the last bit of his events, mostly games. Between being hot and exhausted, he has to try his hardest then, he says, to stay in character. In similarity, Cummins says that being extremely hot and sweaty is the most difficult part of the job, but also tells of his extreme change in character when playing Una, and how it can sometimes be difficult.

“I’ve played both Leo and Una, [but] it’s hard playing Una because you have to be bubbly and flirtatious, and you have to skip around and act like a girl, and that’s not me,” he said. He claims he does not have a favorite and that the two characters are too different to compare.

Farish feels that one of the things he loves most about being a mascot is the freedom he has behind the mask. “[You] have more confidence,” he said. He enjoys getting to act however he wishes and plays his character with pride and assurance. “I can go up to anyone I want to and do something I wouldn’t typically do. Leo does it and it’s cute.”

Cummins has many things he enjoys about being a mascot, but says at the top of his list is the “spirited expressions on the crowds face.”

“Even if it’s just doing a toe touch, seeing everybody go crazy over it, or doing a chant with them, or even the fight song,” he said. “Just seeing everyone get pumped together – that’s probably my favorite thing, by far.”

They both leave words of advice that apply not only to those trying out to be mascot, but to everyone, to be confident and to leave any negativity behind.