- Associated Press - Sunday, October 15, 2017

FAIRMONT, W.Va. (AP) - The fans present at Fairmont Senior High School football games range from spirited students to the quarterback’s parents, and it’s Robert “Cam” Smith’s goal to get them all hyped.

He’s dressed as a polar bear, so it’s hard to miss him as he dances and shakes through the audience in the stands and around the sidelines.

“It’s a really simple job. Just stay quiet and act happy, and honestly, staying quiet is the hardest part for me,” Smith, a junior at FSHS, said.

While most polar bears prefer to live in the Arctic circle and hunt seals, this one sticks to the football scene in West Virginia, where its only game is school spirit.

After a two-year-long stretch without a mascot performing at games for the school, Smith donned the paws of a newly donated costume earlier this year.

Assistant principal at FSHS James Green?believes the old suit to have been more than 20 years old, and the dampened, ragged state it was in made it all but unusable.

Green said there have been a few negative comments about the new suit not being fierce enough, but he commended Smith’s performance as the Polar Bear.

“He’s fantastic. He makes the bear come alive in a way that makes kids, the young and old, love it,”?Green said. “The thing is most college mascots are not fierce-looking. Most are somewhat of a caricature and not meant to be threatening.”

The oversized head and body of the new suit worn on top of Smith’s regular-sized arms and legs sells the suit as just that - a caricature, and in addition, Smith utilizes some cartoon-like movements and tactics to give the bear a personality while in the stands.

Sometimes he’ll give a high-five. Sometimes he’ll run away covering his eyes, and sometimes he’ll do jazz hands (paws?).

He thinks of the polar bear as an encourager rather than an intimidator.

“I walk around the stadium and think ‘everyone deserves a hug,’” Smith said.

Even the other team and its fans deserve a hug. While walking through the football stadium at Friday’s chilly game, the Polar Bear stopped for everyone he crossed paths with for a warm and fuzzy hug.

“It’s a family bear. It’s fun to be around, and it’s a different kind of bear than they had years ago,”?Smith said.

You’ll usually spot the bear roaming around the stands administering hugs, but Smith also cooperates in part to pump up the crowd with the school’s cheerleading squad.

“He is doing an amazing job. He is spirited, funny and energetic, and it’s hard to be that active in a big costume like that,”?Nathy Janes, cheerleading coach at FSHS, said.

Desiree Hardway, adviser for the Spirit Club at FSHS, also enjoys Smith’s take on the Polar Bear.

She took on the position in the club this year when it needed a faculty member to assist the students. She too expressed nothing but praise for Smith’s portrayal of the Polar Bear.

“He does amazing. He’s animated, and the kids love him,”?Hardway said.

Janes also commented on the professional level of Smith’s performance.

“I could see him doing this is college, and you have to be really good if you want to get up there,”?she said.

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Information from: Times West Virginian, https://www.timeswv.com


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