Hook ‘Em: The Faces Behind the Face of UT

hook em

You’ve undoubtedly seen him: the large, jersey-clad, cowboy-hat-wearing, longhorn, swooping down to take a picture with a few awe-struck children. If you’ve been to any of the University of Texas’ sporting events over the past 30 years, you’ve seen what has become a Texas tradition and fan favorite known as Hook ‘Em.

Not to be confused with his bovine counterpart ‘Bevo,’ Hook ‘Em is the slightly less publicized but greatly endeared Texas mascot. Each year, five students don the Hook ‘Em costume, and transform into one of the most famous collegiate mascots in the country. Although the mascot itself receives great recognition, many fans have no idea who the people behind the costume are.

“The coolest thing is being a symbol for this university, this external figure of one of the biggest and best universities, but only your friends really know it’s you,” said former mascot captain Katie Sowa. “It’s kind of secretive. Everyone’s seen [Hook ‘Em], loves him, and takes pictures with him, but no one really knows who’s underneath it.”

On a warm Saturday in fall, you’ll find Hook ‘Em somewhere amidst the 85,000 burnt-orange-wearing, screaming fans at Darrel K. Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium. The mascot hasn’t missed a Texas football game since 1978, but it is a rare instance when the same person is underneath the costume at two games in a row. There are typically four or five mascots each year who share the duties according to Sowa.

“Each person brings something a little different to the act, but we try to train everyone so that you can’t tell us apart and you’re not seeing Katie or me, but you’re seeing Hook ‘Em,” said Tim Ginn, the current mascot captain.

As soon as the newest members of the mascot team are announced, an intense process of ‘becoming Hook ‘Em’ begins. Ginn said that Hook ‘Em’s main gimmick is his cocky demeanor. The first thing the mascots-in-training learn is how to convey this cocksure demeanor and exude the essence of Hook ‘Em. From the coy, playful, nature towards women, to the underlying goofiness of the character that’s been built over the past three decades, it is essential that these new member truly understand the mindset and outlook of Hook ‘Em. Ginn said the most important and most fundamental aspect of this is the patented Hook ‘Em walk.

“You may not even notice, but [Hook ‘Em] just carries himself with just that little bit of swagger,” said Ginn. “The whole cocky nature begins and ends with the walk.”

A government, urban studies, and geography major, Ginn is a highly involved student leader at UT. By day, Ginn is the president of the Tejas Club and a Student Government Representative, two roles Ginn takes very seriously. By night (and the occasional day game), Ginn gets to be a rambunctious steer who plays with kids and toys with referees.

The average member of Texas Cheer, which Hook ‘Em officially is, wouldn’t throw up their arms in disdain over an unfavorable call, or get away with childishly mocking an umpire. Behind the protection of the costume however, the normally compassionate and kind Ginn had no problem placing his hands over his eyes simulating a pair of glasses, after an umpire didn’t call a strike on a close pitch from a Texas pitcher.

“My favorite part is right after a game or an appearance.” said Ginn. “You let all emotions go and afterwards you feel completely refreshed. It’s kind of an escape and a getaway from reality.”

Accompanying Sowa and Ginn are government and corporate communications senior Michael Orona, international business senior Abigail Edge, and supply chain management sophomore Jose Gutierrez. For the ‘08-‘09 school year, only Ginn and Gutierrez will be returning. This means that three spots will be open for new mascots.

On April 19, eight students tried out for the available spots. Once the new mascots are announced, they will go through the aforementioned training process to teach them the basics and of course the ever-important walk.

Gutierrez, who began in fall 2007, is looking forward to having some seniority in the upcoming year, since he was essentially the low man last year. Hook ‘Em will generally go to all football, basketball, baseball and softball games- in addition to making local appearances if possible. This can create quite a demand for the mascot. The scheduling is done at a weekly meeting, and is based primarily on seniority. The cheer coaches are sensitive to outside involvement however, and do not allow mascots to miss class unless it is for a conference or NCAA tournament, or another large-scale event of that magnitude, according to Ginn.

For Gutierrez, it wasn’t all bad being the new man on the squad this year. He enjoyed traveling with the team, meeting the coaches, and talking with alumni. He said his favorite experience was traveling with the men’s basketball team for the NCAA tournament in which the Longhorns made it to the Elite 8.

“It’s different being a mascot,” said Gutierrez. “There are 100 football players, 15 basketball players, 50 cheerleaders and Pom, and countless athletes…but there are only 5 mascots at the whole university.”

Gutierrez is a member of Absolute Texxas, a co-ed service organization, and an intramural referee when not sporting the Hook ‘Em costume. He said that being a mascot is by far the most enjoyable experience he’s had since coming to the university.

Out of plain sight, Gutierrez removed the Hook ‘Em head, allowing me a rare glimpse of the man in the suit. With hair matted to his head and beads of sweat bringing his face to a glisten after nearly three hours being the mascot at a baseball game at Disch-Falk Field, Gutierrez describes with painstaking detail the physical experience of being Hook ‘Em.

“It’s like wearing sweatpants, a hoody, and a ski mask during the game, when it’s already 100 degrees,” quipped Gutierrez in good humor. “But what’s worse is how tired you get with the weight of it, and the lack of oxygen. You get out of breath really fast, and just hope the little kid in the front row doesn’t notice.”

Being a mascot is an excellent cardio workout according Ginn, who claims it is much tougher than when he played high school football in the humid Corpus Christi heat. He also claims it is about 30 degrees hotter in the suit, which can really work up a sweat and call for the Febreeze.

The temperature may have been the reason that three out of this year’s five Hook ‘Ems said their favorite sport to mascot for was basketball, where indoor arenas offer a stark juxtaposition to a hot Saturday in September.

“My favorite memory was the NCAA basketball tournament in 2007 when I got to meet [Men’s basketball] Coach [Rick] Barnes,” said Sowa. “He was so fascinated to meet the mascot, maybe more so than I was to meet him. He had great ideas for things we could do, but he was really surprised that it was a girl under there.”

Sowa, along with being the former mascot captain, has held many campus leadership positions. She has served as the chair of Camp Texas, was a Student Government two-year at large representative, and is a member of Orange Jackets. Even with all of this campus activity, Sowa still valued her time as a mascot.

“I’ve enjoyed my time at UT, but being on the field will be the thing I miss most…although the free shoes, shirts, shorts and other little perks weren’t too bad either though,” joked Sowa.

Although many students still refer to Hook ‘Em as “Bevo,” Ginn feels that campus awareness is getting a lot better, especially as UT sports continue to thrive and fans are going to more games and being exposed more to the mascot.

“One day we’ll be as famous as that dang cow,” joked Ginn. “We’ve only been doing this since 1977!”

As Hook ‘Em continues to be represented by a diverse group of students from all areas of campus, it is inevitable that he will gradually become a more conscious part of UT culture and lore, even if those who sacrifice their weekends and school nights to bring him to life continue to remain in anonymity.

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