Unmasking the mascot: Massillon Washington's Obie

5:55 PM, Oct 21, 2010   |    comments
Photo courtesy of Jason Neel
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His lesser-known contribution to the Tiger Swing Band, however, is just as much a part of the lore of Friday nights in the fall as the gridiron action that takes place inside the iconic Stark County high school stadium that bears his name.

According to the History of the Massillon Tiger Swing Band, Brown first suggested the idea of having a student dressed in a real tiger skin perform with the band. Obie made his first appearance in 1938, after the school district purchased a tiger skin from a Denver, Colo., costume supply company for $400.

Obie became an immediate rallying point for the football-crazed city and remains a point of pride today.

The district has gone to great lengths to continue the tradition of the costumed Obie since its inception, going as far as having the outfit cleaned and repaired by a local taxidermist.

"The Obie costume has traditionally been a real tiger skin and it has been that way since the 1930s," Massillon's fifth-year marching band director Jason Neel said. "You can imagine how difficult of a tradition this has been to maintain."

The costume has been replaced every 10 to 20 years. As times have changed, so has the Obie costume, but only with great care taken to ensure it has remained as true to its original form as possible.

"Within the last decade, the laws concerning the protection of these animals have changed, making it impossible to secure a real skin anymore," Neel said. "Our solution was to keep our real tiger head - which was still in pretty good shape - and have a synthetic body created to match the head."

Bred a tiger

Alex Constable remembers first seeing Obie when the mascot visited her third grade class at Gorrell Elementary with Tiger Swing Band squad leaders.

"I got a hug from Obie that day," Constable said.

The Washington High junior decided to try out for the position last year after a friend played the part.

"I first thought of trying out for the position of Obie my freshman year," Constable said. "I didn't get serious about it until the following year when Levi Hawk was Obie and made me realize how much fun it could be."

The tryout process for the position is befitting Obie's significance. Neel said the band staff holds auditions each spring for its rising sophomores, juniors and seniors. Interested band members must write an essay, interview with the band staff, complete a dance routine in costume and demonstrate their running speed in costume. Three to six students usually compete to become the face of the band each year.

Constable has played Obie for about a year and is enjoying every moment.

"It's unbelievably cool," Constable said of the role. "You can basically do what you want for the show, performances and parades. You get a real chance to express yourself and it's fun."

Constable gets the most enjoyment out of making life-long memories for the community's youngest residents.

"All the little kids love me - a.k.a Obie," she said. "It makes you feel special when one of them wants a hug or high-five."

One of those children will likely remember that special moment several years from now and follow in Constable's footsteps and carry on one of Massillon's proudest traditions.

Do you know a Northeast Ohio high school athletic team, student-athlete, school mascot or coach that you'd like to see featured on WKYC's HighSchoolSports.net Web page? Send an e-mail to vdorsey[at]wkyc.com.

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