Behind the mask with: Ernie the Eagle

By Talia Zelle, Opinion Editor and Emma Kirkbride, Staff Writer — It’s a typical Friday night at Bob Commings Stadium: the bright lights and excited fans; the fierce teams duking it out on the field to the playing of the impeccable band; the energetic cheerleaders and passionate student section, the watchful administration and…

Ernie the Eagle.

Ernie, the mascot of GlenOak High School, is a vital part of Plain Local sporting events, school functions and community activities. The Eagle embodies school spirit, sportsmanship and friendly competition.

The people of Plain Local know Ernie. They take photos with him at football games. He gives them high-fives at district-wide events.

Yet, most do not know the true identity of the person behind the mask.

For this year’s Ernie, the job has been a long time coming.

“I’ve always wanted to be Ernie, since I was in 7th grade,” Ernie said, whose identity will be kept hidden in accordance with school tradition. “I don’t know why, but I really enjoy it.”

Ernie had to go through a rigorous tryout process to achieve the position.

“Last year there were tryouts. I turned in a paper and did a two-minute dance routine and an interview,” Ernie said. “It was really stressful, but it was worth it.”

With football season in full swing and a busy schedule of appearances at events up ahead, Ernie is looking forward to an enjoyable year.

“It’s so fun to jump around and excite people and be a part of something that represents the student body,” Ernie said. “It’s great to be positive and make others happy, which is my main goal at the games.”

The GlenOak mascot came into existence after the combination of Glenwood High School and Oakwood High School in 1975 that formed the GlenOak High School known today.

The mascot from Glenwood—the Eagle—and the colors from Oakwood—green and gold—were integrated into the identity of the new high school.

Ernie has since become an essential part of the Plain Local community.

“It’s so fun because I’m really involved in the school and a part of something big,” Ernie said. “It opened an opportunity to get closer to people.”

Their appearances at community events such as Family Fun Day, Father’s Day Run and Kindergarten Fair give Ernie the chance to interact with the children of the school district.

“It’s really nice to be a role model for kids because they look up to you,” Ernie said. “They’re so cute when they come up to you and surround you. They’re just not negative. It’s the best thing ever. The little kids make my night.”

Although students, children and parents generally love seeing Ernie at school functions, occasionally there are people who are not as kind to the mascot.

“What makes me upset is that people will be rude [at football games],” Ernie said. “I had a kid hit my head on purpose.”

Ernie stays positive by focusing on keeping school spirit high and fans pumped up during games by interacting with people as much as possible.

“I dab a lot. I’ll do those corny dance moves,” Ernie said. “I’ll just walk around and wave to people.”

The anonymity that comes along with being the mascot enables Ernie to be fearless, dynamic and vivacious at events.

“You just feel like a different person when you’re under the mask,” Ernie said. “I don’t care if I screw up because I don’t really get embarrassed. It’s really nice when people don’t know you.”

However, it is difficult to keep the small circle of close friends and family that know Ernie’s identity from spilling the beans in front of the general public.

“The funny thing is, when I’m in the suit, people that know me will still call me by my actual name,” Ernie said. “I’ll be like, ‘Shhhhhh!’ Then when I’m me, they’ll call me Ernie! I try to keep people quiet about it.”

Still, Ernie says one of the best things about being the mascot is the secrecy.

[Updated Aug. 19, 2017: This article has been reformatted for consistency.]