America’s Next Top Mascot

Even from a Houston sports non-traditionalist like myself, I have to admit Clutch is one of the best mascots in the NBA. Hands down. Possibly even in all of sports. Yes, I said it.

If there were such a thing as mascot camp, Clutch would surely be the leader, right? Right.

In it’s second year of mascot camp, the Rockets are still the only NBA team to put on such a camp. While other kids are busy frolicking at music camp or fat camp, twenty of the most energetic middle school, high school and even a few college kids are hanging out with Clutch to learn how to be the best. Without saying a word.

The improv sessions and tips shared at mascot camp were so invaluable, furry and scaly animals from all over Texas and beyond came out. Even Oklahoma native, Sam “The Husky” Davis who is only a junior high student at Sequoyah but is so good at mascotting, he’s the Edmond North High School mascot. (Note – I’m not even sure if mascot can be turned into a verb, such as mascotting, but after witnessing this camp, I’m a proponent for it.) At only thirteen-years old, Sam has been a mascot for four years and is well on his way to anonymous stardom.

Robert Boudwin, or “Clutch the Bear” (which we shall use interchangeably from here on out) has been a mascot for over twenty years and is going into his 17th season as Clutch. Seventeen seasons in a sport is tough. For anyone. Think about it. Not many athletes last that long. Definitely not many front office staff either. And if you don’t think Clutch is an athlete or part of the Houston Rockets front office, you surely are mistaken.

Having witnessed just a 15-minute performance for the campers in an air-conditioned conference room inside the Toyota Center, I can personally vouch that Robert sweats more than Kobe, Shaq and the head of Sam Cassell combined.

If you think he’s not part of the front office, then you’re crazier than one of these animated mascots. At over 9-feet tall, Clutch is a living, breathing billboard and an extension of the Rocketball brand. As Robert pointed out during camp, the ball is in play for 48 minutes, but fans are in their seats for over two and a half hours. That’s 150 minutes chockfull of Clutch antics of dancing, cakes-in-face, stripping down to his skivvies and whatever else the loveable, huggable mammal conjures up.

Even schools like University of Houston – Downtown see the value in Clutch’s camp sending their Gator, Donte Lewis, to learn from Clutch. “They want me to learn to be more interactive, like Clutch,” Donte said. Blake Bjostad and Jake Hansen made the 500-mile roundtrip trek from Allen, TX with their teacher to learn from Clutch. Jake and Blake were the only inflatable mascots (“Big Boy” the Eagle) at camp wowing the group with their signature headstand. Last year, aspiring mascot Ryan came out sans costume to learn the peculiarities of mascotting. After gaining skill and confidence from camp, Ryan happily returned this year as the Cy-Fair Bobcat with costume in hand.

My favorite part of mascot camp was watching the mascoters dress up in their own costumes and take cues from Clutch on the sideline. He’d yell prompts like, “show me elated, you’re on fire, confident” for the mascots to act out.

Here are a few noteworthy performances:
Clutch’s cue: Show me dead.
Sarah Alcoser (aka “Kitty the Bulldog” from John H. Reagan)’s reaction: turns mascot head around
Clutch’s cue (to a female mascot): You’re the man!
Female mascot’s reaction: grabs crotch area
Clutch’s cue: Show me you have to go to the bathroom. Number 1. But don’t grab yourself.
Four mascot’s reactions: not a thing
Clutch’s cue: You just got a phone call. It’s your mother.
Mascot: hangs up phone.

I promised Clutch I wouldn’t reveal all his trade secrets, but here are some key components to being a successful, well-rounded mascot I learned at camp:

– Learn the difference between creepy and aggressive (I can imagine this is a key differentiator to being successful at your gig).

– Find a good balance of your skits and innuendos as a mascot. It’s difficult to make the masses (adults and kids alike) laugh at one skit, but think more like Homer Simpson, not Peter Griffin.

– Don’t wave like a normal person, wave like a cartoon character with your entire body. The costumes absorb motion so every move you make should be exaggerated. If Clutch goes to shake his tail feather, you won’t see anything with that robust costume, so he grabs his hips or his backside for fans to see.

– Like Big Brother, someone is always watching the mascot. With over 18,000 seats in the Toyota Center, Clutch ensures even his break time is part of the game.

– Never let the audience see you partially dressed in costume. “Think of yourself like Superman. You’re either all Clark Kent or all Superman. Never a partial variation of either,” Clutch explains.

– Don’t make refs the butt of your joke. Ever. (Especially not the overplayed Three Blind Mice piece.)

– My personal favorite – “If your character has a tail, make sure that’s all it’s used for.”

That’s a wrap on mascot camp. As Clutch would say, “Good work. Everyone can take their heads off now.”

This article was featured on Culture Map, Houston’s Daily Digital Magazine in the sport’s section.