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Archive for Saturday, August 17, 1996

KU EDITION

August 17, 1996

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For the past25 years, Baby Jay has been a part of KU style.

A Kansas University tradition that's had many faces and touched many lives turns 25 this year.

Baby Jay made its first appearance at halftime during the 1971 homecoming game. A giant egg was wheeled out to the 50-yard line. The capacity crowd looked onto the field in confusion as ``2001:A Space Odyssey'' played over the sound system.

Amy Hurst, then a sophomore from Cincinnati, huddled inside of the egg, anxiously awaiting her moment. Hurst was dressed in a costume made out of chicken wire, fiberglass and crimson and blue material. Her headdress had a set of wide eyes and on her feet she wore bright yellow shoes.

Hurst was only 4-foot-11-inches tall, but her costume stood another 5 inches above her head. Her costume weighed 25 pounds and was uncomfortable.

But the weight of the costume did not matter to Hurst, because in just a few seconds she was to become the first Baby Jay. Hurst broke through the shell of the egg, made from wire and tissue paper, and was greeted on the field by Chancellor Archie Dykes.

``I'll never forget that moment,'' Hurst said. ``The sound of the stadium! It was like all 50,000 people inhaled at the exact same time and then said, `Wow!' I was so astonished. It was the coolest thing! The crowd went nuts! It was all worth it. The kids loved it; everyone loved it!''

Although Hurst graduated in 1974 with a degree in physical therapy, she talks about the event as if it were yesterday.

Hatching the idea

Now a resident of Fort Myers, Fla., Hurst first became interested in attending KU when she came to Lawrence for a family reunion while she was still in high school. She had a positive feeling about the campus and decided it was where she wanted to go to college.

When she was a freshman at KU, she worked as a waitress in a local restaurant. Her manager was one of the Jayhawk mascots.

She became enamored with the idea of being a mascot after seeing the Jayhawk at sports events and talking with her manager at work. Her height was a disadvantage to becoming a mascot, so she came up with the idea of creating a Baby Jay.

Before school ended in the spring, Hurst took her idea to the KU Alumni Association. The association humored Hurst by telling her that if she made the costume, she could be the Baby Jay.

All summer long Hurst, her parents and one of their neighbors worked on making Baby Jay. The entire Baby Jay costume cost $52 to build and was conceived in the Hurst family garage. From Hurst's home in Ohio, Baby Jay rode onto the KU campus tied to the trunk of a car.

``I was sure that the costume wasn't good enough,'' Hurst said. ``I was terrified. The first thing my family and I did when we got to campus was go to the alumni association. I was positive everyone wouldn't like it.''

But the alumni officials loved the costume, and so Baby Jay hatched with Hurst during the homecoming game that year.

In addition to football, basketball and alumni event appearances, Hurst used to take the costume to parties and let other students try it on. Many larger male students who tried on the Baby Jay costume got it stuck on their heads.

Fear of falling

The Baby Jay costume was not very user-friendly even to Hurst, who was the intended wearer. It was virtually impossible to see out of the eyes, and the fiberglass frame would leave bruises on Hurst's thighs when she moved.

``Subconsciously, I was always afraid of falling over,'' Hurst said. ``Odds of getting up on my own were zero. When I would run out ahead of the team, I was horrified that I would fall down and all that would be left on the field was a flattened Baby Jay.''

Despite the discomfort, the style of the original Baby Jay costume was used for 13 years. In 1984, Hurst returned to retire her Baby Jay costume. Tufts of white feathers were attached to the eyebrows and head and she was given a cane to carry out onto the football field. There she was greeted by a new Baby Jay. Hurst's original costume has been housed in the university archives since.

The current Baby Jay costume is made by the same company that creates the characters for Walt Disney World. This Baby Jay had a lot of flaws in it when it first arrived. After getting a beak job and a hair cut, Baby Jay is finally appearing a little more traditional.

The latest Baby Jay costume was introduced before the 1995 KU-UCLA basketball game. All of the old Baby Jay costumes were brought onto the court, so the costume history could be seen by all.

``I think that the outfit moves itself sometimes,'' said Sara Jarrell, a current Baby Jay. ``It's impossible to simply walk in the outfit, you have to do the Jayhawk strut. And you think, `I feel gross, I smell gross,' all the same. You forget that you're hot, you're just wet. And when you get an itch, there is nothing you can do about it.''

Standing out

A former KU cheerleader, Jarrell wanted to have more than KU school spirit. She wanted to be the Jayhawk, the symbol of the university.

Jarrell, a junior from Albuquerque, N.M., is 5-foot-2-inches tall and is one of the three women to wear the current Baby Jay featherweight costume.

Last spring, Jarrell attended Baby Jay tryouts along with seven or eight other women. She and the others ran for 12 minutes to see if they had enough stamina to make it through an average game. Jarrell also had an interview in which she let her personality shine.

In addition, the auditions required the prospective Baby Jays to wear the costume while performing a one-minute skit, the Rock Chalk cheer, the alma mater and expressing a series of Baby Jay emotions.

``The judges yell out situations, three of them, like, `Baby Jay's tail is on fire' or, `The Jayhawks just scored,' and you have to react to what they have just said,'' recalled Jarrell.

The mascots traditionally go to camp with the KU cheerleaders. At camp they attend special mascot training sessions and even get a chance to wear their costumes out into the community for a service project.

Not all experiences are good for the mascots. Willie the Wildcat humiliated Jarrell while parading her in front of the crowd this past year at the KU-K-State football game in Manhattan. And she admits that seeing smaller children and dealing with their abuse is sometimes hard.

``A lot of times you want to tell little kids that as they're punching your head, they're hurting you,'' Jarrell said.

Little children try to give Baby Jay potato chips during warm weather picnics. Jarrell says that she simply throws the chips over her shoulder and hopes that the kids do not notice.

For the most part, however, being the Baby Jay has been positive for Jarrell.

Jarrell's favorite experience so far has been attending a man's birthday party in Topeka. He was a lawyer and had been a longtime fan of the Jayhawks. Recently, it was discovered that he had a brain tumor, and his family wanted to make his birthday extra special.

``It was the greatest day of this man's life,'' Jarrell said. ``He could not get over it. He was so worked up that he could barely talk. His wife wrote me a thank you note, his daughter wrote to me, and his law firm called the Sports Information Office and thanked them. It was really special. I even want to go back and visit him again. I like knowing that I made someone's day.''

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