- Associated Press - Sunday, December 20, 2015

COLUMBUS, Neb. (AP) - Off in a secluded area of the school, Rachel Klatt was getting ready to make an appearance at the Columbus High School basketball games.

It was taking a bit of effort, though.

First, using a wide strip of Velcro, a battery pack powering an air blower was strapped around her waist. Then her feet were secured in shoes attached to a suit. The suit was pulled up her body and zipped in the back, encasing the CHS junior well above her head and down to her toes.

It took a few minutes and the help of a friend to get the job done. Klatt then maneuvered down a hallway and ducked through a doorway as she made her way to the gym.

The preparation is all part of the job as a school mascot.

The Columbus Telegram (http://bit.ly/1Mj1E4j ) reports that Klatt plays the role of Lil’ C along with classmate Alyssa Hartman and senior Sam Trofholz. The three take turns suiting up and performing for the crowd at athletic events and other school functions.

The inflatable mascot dressed in maroon overalls and a backward-facing cap made its first appearance in 2014 at an assembly. It has since become a recognizable figure for the school district.

Klatt and Hartman dabbled in playing the mascot last year.

“I thought it would be a fun opportunity to do something on the high school bucket list. I guess it is checked off now,” Klatt said.

Students who show interest in being the mascot can play the role. Their identity usually is kept on the down-low, which makes performing a little easier.

“No one knows who you are so you can do whatever,” said Trofholz, who is in his first year being the mascot.

There is no training to be Lil’ C, so students are on their own when coming up with ways to energize the crowd.

“You just act funny, bounce around with the cheerleaders, wave at people,” Trofholz said of his go-to moves.

Giving high-fives to children is also a staple for Lil’ C. Children are often enamored with the mascot, which is similar to Lil’ Red with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Klatt recalls an incident with a group of youngsters at a basketball game last year when she was swarmed by children.

“I didn’t have an escort out of the gym one time and these kids just attacked me. I had to run. It took me 20 minutes to get back to where I was supposed to be because the kids wouldn’t stop hitting the suit,” she said.

The younger crowd can have mixed reaction to mascots.

Jake Jarecki, who was the first person to play Central Community College’s mascot Raider Rex, said he received everything from welcoming hugs to scared looks from children while dressed as the 7-foot-tall mustached man.

Students who are Raider Rex go through tryouts and are offered scholarships because of the time commitment required to be the mascot. That was one reason Jarecki wanted to play the part.

“I tried out because of the scholarship, but I just figured it was a really good way to get involved and get to know people,” he said.

Raider Rex was unveiled in January 2013 and has made appearances at college and community events, as well as games for Tri-City Storm hockey in Kearney and Nebraska Danger football in Grand Island.

“It’s been a really important part of our identity,” said Beth Przymus, associate dean of students at the college, adding that the mascot has also had a positive impact on school spirit at home competitions.

The college keeps the identity of the person playing Raider Rex under wraps, which is similar to what four-year institutions do, Przymus said. Doing so also helps students get into character without being self-conscious.

Jarecki played Raider Rex until May 2014. He was going to be sent to a mascot training school when selected for the role, but that never happened. So it was up to him to come up with antics to rile up with crowd. He admits to watching a few mascot performances on YouTube to get ideas, as well.

His favorite memory of performing came during a sporting event when he did a country line dance with the cheerleaders and dance team at the college.

“I was able to successfully swing dance in the Raider Rex costume,” he said.

Jarecki, who is a graduate of Lakeview High School and lives in Platte Center, graduated from Central Community College with an associate degree and is working toward a bachelor’s degree in business at Bellevue University. He said he enjoyed playing the part and the most important skill of being a mascot is playing to the audience.

“You have to know how to adapt to every situation, whether you are going up to an infant, child, teenager or young adult. You have to be the character those people want to see you portrayed as,” he said.

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Information from: Columbus Telegram, http://www.columbustelegram.com

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