Mixing, mingling with mascots

When “2001” started playing at her wedding rehearsal dinner, Amelia Arthur muttered: “Please, no. Please, no.”

She was marrying a huge University of South Carolina fan and guessed correctly that a special guest was arriving — Cocky, the school’s mascot.

Cocky danced with guests and teased relatives, much to the delight of Arthur’s new husband, Michael.

“It added my Gamecocks obsession as part of the wedding,” the 2005 political science graduate said. “It was hilarious. Carolina fans have a special spot for Cocky.”

Cocky is no longer confined to the ball fields. For $100 an hour ($50 for community activities), anyone can add USC’s mascot to an event .

And Cocky is in demand. He attended 114 events in the year ending June 30, up 30 percent from the previous year, USC cheerleading coach Erika Goodwin said.

Cocky has company. The Tiger mascot from Clemson makes about 160 appearances a year at $70 for 90 minutes plus mileage, said John Seketa, the school’s assistant athletics director for promotions.

“We’re giving a piece of Clemson back to the community,” he said.

The bulk of mascot requests are for birthdays and weddings, including a few where Cocky or The Tiger have accompanied couples down the aisle.

And yes, Cocky and The Tiger are sometimes hired for the same event about four times a year — usually parades though they have attended weddings together, Seketa said.

The schools make sure their mascots go only to family-atmosphere events, and they teach their student performers how to handle potentially sticky circumstances. Cocky will ask tailgaters to put down beers for photos, Goodwin said.

“People are a lot more open to behaving (well) around Cocky than you would know,” she said. “We’ve never had a problem, knock on wood.”

The schools have some limitations on appearances. Cocky won’t go to businesses that are not Gamecock athletics sponsors. The mascots won’t do political events.

The colleges have first dibs on mascot appearances, but they can send multiple student performers who can attend events. USC has four Cockys, while Clemson has four Tigers and Tiger Cubs.

But the schools have one sacred rule — the mascots don’t go out when their football teams are playing.

“There can be only one Cocky,” Goodwin said.

Kurt Murphy of Lexington hired Cocky this month for his 3-year-old daughter, Kinsey, a regular at USC football games.

Outside Williams-Brice Stadium before a recent USC game, Kinsey Murphy ran into Cocky and invited him to her birthday party.

She squealed when the mascot arrived at her party a few weeks later. Cocky jumped in a bounce house, played games of corn hole and helped blow out the candles on Kinsey’s cake.

Before he left the party, Kinsey gave Cocky a hug and a message: “Please check on Marcus and give him a hug.”