UMSL students David Klein and Elishia Seals

David Klein, BSBA 2010, was the first UMSL student to become Louie, the university's mascot. He and Elishia Seals, a senior art history and photography major and UMSL Tritons cheerleader, say they enjoy boosting the excitement of fans at basketball games and other campus events.

Although the University of Missouri–St. Louis cheerleaders and Louie, the university’s mascot, were introduced to the campus just last year, both are already two of the university’s most recognizable assets.

Under the direction of Sandra Ray, the squad’s coach, the cheerleading program has grown to include eight cheerleaders and Louie, who was developed under the leadership of Curtis Coonrod, vice provost for student affairs at UMSL.

Louie made his debut at the university’s annual “Pack the Stands” event in January of last year. David Klein, who earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration in December, had the unique opportunity to don the Louie suit for the big reveal. The squad wheeled him into the gym in a large box. As soon as the near sellout crowd realized Louie was in the box, they erupted.

“They went crazy,” Klein said. It’s a night he said he won’t forget.

Elishia Seals, a senior art history and photography major at UMSL, was one of the cheerleaders who coordinated Louie’s debut. She said it was amazing to see the crowds’ reaction and know she was part of making the reveal happen.

“I think of Louie like my little brother,” she said. “We helped create him.”

Louie is a member of the squad and assists cheerleaders in stunts. Louie and the cheerleaders appear at every home basketball game and at many other campus events.

UMSL cheerleader, mascot tryout information

And to anyone who tells her that cheerleading is not a sport, Seals has a standard answer.

“Come out and try it for a day, then tell me it’s not a sport,” she said. “It’s physically wearing, and just like athletes have to remember plays, we have to remember dances, routines and cheers. You need to be passionate about it or you won’t like it, and you have to like sports, because you are going to be at a lot of games. One of the hardest things to do is to keep smiling even when your team is losing.”

Being a mascot takes effort, too. First and foremost, a mascot has to be someone who loves people and loves to have fun with them, Klein said.

“A mascot can’t be easily embarrassed,” he said. “The crowd doesn’t want you to be perfect. They want the mascot to be silly and crazy. You have to be able to grab props. There is not a set structure on how to interact with people.”

Both Klein and Seals said one of the best things about their jobs was the excitement of the fans.

“No matter how my day was going, when I’d put on the suit it became exciting,” Klein said. “It was not about me becoming my alter ego. It was me becoming the fans’ perception of Louie.”

A mascot’s work is completely nonverbal, which means the person inside the suit must focus on his or her body language at all times, but Klein said that didn’t stop him from smiling at the camera, even though his face was obscured by Louie’s head.

“People don’t know how hot it is inside the suit,” he said. “It’s a foam sauna in there.”

The role of university mascot requires absolute secrecy, and only a few of Klein’s closest friends and family members knew about his job. He even took great care to disguise his walk as he entered the gym in street clothes, and Seals said the cheerleaders had to hide Klein several times to keep his identity a secret.

But no matter how hard it was or how much work it took, neither student would change a thing. “It was worth every minute,” Klein said.

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Rose Postma

Rose Postma