Tryouts for Big Al mascot to begin in March

Tryouts for Big Al mascot to begin in March

CW File

Adrienne Burch

The back of junior Justin Sullivan’s car contains a long, gray, tube-like structure that is clumsily draped over the back seat. Against it lies a massive head with large, oversized ears propped up against the side of the seat. One gets the feeling that there is a large elephant in the room.

Sullivan is one of five Big Al mascots at the University of Alabama. He makes this lifeless costume come alive at nearly every event that occurs across the UA campus, and he stores his elephant suit in the back of his car.

The elephant was first coined as the UA mascot in 1930 when Everett Strupper, an Atlanta sportswriter, wrote that an anonymous fan shouted the phrase, “Here come the elephants!” as the Alabama football team took the field during a football game against Ole Miss.

The first student to wear an elephant head to a game was Melford Espey Jr. in the 1960s. Espey later worked closely with legendary coach Paul “Bear” Bryant to form a mascot program at the University.

The first actual Big Al costume debuted at the 1979 Sugar Bowl, where Alabama defeated Penn State to claim the National Championship.

In order to become Big Al, students must go through a strenuous interview process. Students are put through a clinic, have interviews, perform skits and finalists have to make appearances as Big Al during the spring A-Day game.

“I was so nervous,” Sullivan said about tryouts. “I had never been a mascot before, and we had people come with portfolios of all they had done from as far as Pennsylvania.”

Once becoming Big Al, Sullivan says they make appearances in everything from the football national championship to birthday parties.

“Big Al goes to nursing homes, daycares, schools, many charity events and he travels around the South,” said Rachel Coleman, a junior who also performs as Big Al. “He is a very busy elephant and everyone wants a piece of him.”

Sullivan said the most exciting thing he has done as Big Al is a commercial where he drove an RV in his suit. Coleman enjoyed being a part of the UA pep rally before the Louisiana State game and appearing in a NEEDTOBREATHE concert this past November.

“It’s awesome being an elephant for one of the most well-known and prestigious schools in the nation,” Sullivan said. “It’s great to make someone’s day by me just messing around.”

The job of Big Al is not only time consuming but physically demanding on a person. It is typically 20 degrees hotter in the suit than the temperature outside. Coleman said one of the most daunting tasks for her is to clean the suit.

She said that they use vodka to clean the head—something people may not expect.

Coleman said there are also physical aspects of the costume that they must overcome, such as the large hoop around their waist.

“Just because [Big Al is] a little on the heavier side, that does not stop him from being full of energy,” Coleman said. “He loves to dance, cheer and most of all play tricks on anyone and everyone he sees.”

Big Al also competes in a national competition against other mascots across the country, coming in sixth this past December.

Information sessions on trying out to be Big Al for the 2012/2013 school year will be held in the C.M. Newton Room in Coleman Coliseum on March 7 and 26 at 6 p.m. Tryouts are scheduled for April.