A lot of people have pride in their school or alma mater, but not many can compare to Kenneth Mook, a senior at Washington High School.
Kenneth bleeds blue — Blue Jay blue, that is.
You may not know Kenneth, but if you’ve been to any of the WHS home football and basketball games the last couple of years, you’ve probably seen him in action. He’s the personality behind the WHS mascot — Bernie the Blue Jay.
He dances on the sidelines, pumps up the crowd doing poses and pushups, slingshots “I Heart Blue Jays” T-shirts into the crowd (with the help of a couple of cheerleaders), hands out autographed trading cards with Bernie’s photo on them, sells blue and white Blue Jay wristbands for $1 to support WHS Project Graduation . . .
And that’s just the beginning. He also visits elementary schools in the Washington School District to get young students excited about being Blue Jays and sometimes visits with the Challenge students when they come to WHS for their supplemental lessons.
He’s gone to school blood drives dressed as Bernie. For Breast Cancer Awareness Month, he made a No. 1 out of pink duct tape and placed it on the Blue Jay jersey that he wears to games and other events.
Even though it’s standard protocol for high school mascots only to be at home games, Kenneth jumped at the chance to attend an away game with the football team in Camdenton when a couple of the players asked if he was going.
Kenneth also has taken Bernie to an occasional baseball and volleyball game.
He even started a Twitter account (www.twitter.com/Big_Blue_Bird_1) and created a Facebook page (www.facebook.com/BernieTheBluejay).
Last year he put on the Blue Jay suit and participated in the Franklin County Heart Walk, walking three miles in the 50-pound bird costume, and last spring he donned the bird costume for The Missourian’s annual Family Reading Night even though he had just broken his collarbone in a snowboarding accident and the head of the bird sat right on the broken bone.
Just this past weekend he dressed up Bernie in a tie and took him to the annual WHS Senior Citizen Prom, and later this month he’ll suit up to be in the Holiday Parade of Lights the Friday night after Thanksgiving in Downtown Washington.
In fact, Kenneth’s gigs as Bernie the Blue Jay have gotten so plentiful that he has acquired an “agent,” WHS secretary Lisa Coffman.
Everything has to be approved, though, through WHS Activities Director Bill Deckelman.
WHS Principal Dr. Frank Wood said Kenneth’s enthusiasm is “a lot of fun” for his fellow students and Blue Jay fans.
“He gets school spirit up, Blue Jay pride, and we’re happy for that.”
‘Always Full of Energy’
Kenneth has always been serious about showing his Blue Jay pride, but it took on a new meaning for him last year when he volunteered to be the mascot.
A former football player sidelined by injuries, Kenneth said it was his best friend, Luke Schroepfer, who suggested he look into being the Blue Jay.
“When people think ‘goofy,’ they think of me,” Kenneth said, smiling. “I’m always excited, full of energy, always smiling . . . I want people to laugh and be happy.”
Taking his friend’s advice, Kenneth went to the WHS cheerleading coaches to offer his services, and they welcomed his participation.
That first game, though, was a little nerve-racking, Kenneth admits. Standing before such a large crowd was intimidating at first, but he got used to it and quickly found he loved it.
“I want the Blue Jay to be a big deal,” Kenneth told The Missourian.
“I love being a Blue Jay. It’s fantastic.
“And when kids come up to me and say, ‘Blue Jay, you’re my favorite!’ that’s awesome. That makes my day.”
Learns From the Pros
In the beginning, Kenneth simply brought an energy to Bernie’s performance at games and events, but this year is when he took his mascot responsibilities to the next level.
The difference, he said, was a day he spent with the St. Louis Rams’ mascot, Rampage the Ram, and the St. Louis Cardinals’ mascot, Fredbird.
“That’s the coolest thing that’s ever happened to me,” said Kenneth. “I got to hang out with professional mascots. It was so awesome!”
Kenneth didn’t waste any time being starstruck, though. He got down to business.
He asked questions about how I could make things better with crowd interaction, and they gave him a long list of tips that included simple things like have Bernie wear a jersey. More effort was needed for some of the other tips, like try to do back flips.
Kenneth loved the idea so much that he went to Dance Craze in Washington to learn how. He mastered the back tuck (as well as a front handspring into a back tuck), but it turns out it’s not possible to do flips when wearing the bird suit.
“The head ends up hitting the ground,” Kenneth said, with more than a little disappointment in his voice.
Keep in mind, too, that the suit weighs about 40 to 50 pounds.
Another tip the pros had for him was to throw out footballs, but that is easier said than done because of the way the bird hands are configured.
A Different Ball Game
With football season over, Kenneth is gearing up for basketball season, which starts at Thanksgiving with St. Francis Borgia Regional High School’s annual Turkey Tournament.
Wearing the Blue Jay suit at basketball games is a completely different experience from football, said Kenneth, noting for starters, it’s “crazy hot.
“I loose 8 to 12 pounds of water weight at each game,” he said.
And because the halftime break in basketball is only eight minutes, he doesn’t get much time out of the bird suit to cool down and hydrate before going back out to the game.
Kenneth starts preparing long before the game begins by drinking many large cups of water throughout the day and then Gatorade at halftime.
Shakin’ His Tail Feathers
Being a naturally high energy person, Kenneth doesn’t need a lot of help getting excited before a mascot performance, but there are a few things he does to get him in the right mindset.
He plays the song “Shake Your Tail Feather” and does exercises to get his heart pumping — jumping jacks and pushups.
“I don’t have a coach to help me, so I just do it to get me going,” said Kenneth.
As a senior, Kenneth is all too aware that his time as Bernie the Blue Jay will end this spring, and it’s pretty disheartening for him.
“I won’t miss high school as much as I’ll miss being Bernie,” he remarked.
He doesn’t know who will take over as Bernie next year, but is optimistic that whoever it is will have as much fun with it (and put as much heart into it) as he has.
Kenneth is hopeful too that graduating doesn’t mean his time as a mascot is over completely. In fact, he’s looking into colleges that offer mascot scholarships.
He’s putting together a portfolio of his work as Bernie the Blue Jay. He’s included his trading cards, photos of him at events, even a video segment that the WHS Blue Jay Journal did on him.
Kenneth said his plans for college are to study zoology, but his dream job, he said, would be to take over someday as Rampage the Ram.