Gritty who? A South Jersey college unveils its own new mascot: Barry the Baron
Rowan College at Burlington County is selling its former campus, has a relatively new name, and is rebooting its team mascot into a college brand ambassador. Meet Barry the Baron.
Barry the Baron wore a silvery helmet, bore a theatrical sword in one white-gloved hand and a "shield of knowledge" in the other, and walked into the cafeteria with a dignified stride.
So what if Rowan College at Burlington County's new mascot is the fourth larger-than-life costumed character to debut in the Philly-South Jersey region this season?
Barry's midday pizza party last week offered a chance to pose for selfies and high-five with new fans.
"Very knightly," said Au'Set Wright, 19, a graphic-arts major from Pemberton Township. "Other colleges have mascots, so this is cool."
Since September, the Philadelphia Union professional soccer team has unleashed a snake-with-a-Mohawk thing called Phang, and the city's Please Touch Museum has introduced a cute violet mascot with adorable mini-dreadlocks, named Squiggles.
And of course there's a certain orange-haired egomaniac who is not the one in the White House and whose hirsute visage you may have seen elsewhere, or everywhere.
"I can't say we've heard about him," RCBC president Michael A. Cioce said, straight-faced, when I inquired whether he's concerned that Gritty — with 180,000 followers on Twitter and 108,000 on Instagram — has sucked up all the mascot oxygen in the region, if not the nation.
"Is there room for one more mascot? Absolutely," said Cioce, who was at the downtown Mount Holly campus of the community college awaiting Barry's grand entrance recently.
Although the character's true identity, backstory, and gender are being studiously kept mysterious, Barry began life 30 years ago as a nameless one-dimensional logo for the college's basketball, baseball, soccer, and other athletic teams. He was little more than a disembodied head in a helmet until a project began last spring to reboot him (many around the college refer to Barry as male).
A Canadian company called BAM Mascots designed and created the costume to help transform Barry into a marketing tool to boost the commuter college and create camaraderie among its 9,000 students. The effort cost $5,800 and was promoted with a "Who's Barry?" campaign on social media, complete with a #whosbarry hashtag.
A few dozen of the 320 students who attend classes in Mount Holly got their first look at Barry on Tuesday, during the same week Gritty nominated himself as Time magazine's "Person of the Year" and was the continuing object of fascination among academics, as well as observers of Philly's distinctive personality.
"I love Gritty and I don 't even like hockey," said Hunter Schaefer, a 21-year-old psychology major from Burlington Township who attends the Mount Holly campus.
She's hardly alone.
Within three weeks of Gritty's public debut in September, my colleague Ellie Silverman wrote, the Flyers' mascot "fought actor Ricky Gervais on Jimmy Fallon, became a political symbol on protest signs, scored a beer named after him, started a bromance with the Phillie Phanatic, got roasted by Colin Jost on Saturday Night Live, worked at the soda window at Pat's King of Steaks with Guillermo Rodriguez from Jimmy Kimmel Live!, and has been the star of many memes."
So how can RCBC's knightlike character with neither a discernible Philly attitude nor fake fur dream of competing with a celebrity — even one who most resembles a Muppetized version of the Addams Family's Cousin Itt?
"Barry and Gritty operate in different spaces and on different sides of the river," Cioce said.
"Barry doesn't even own ice skates," said RCBC spokesperson Greg Volpe.
Added Mindi Cahall, the college's director of marketing: "You can love Gritty and love Barry. You don't have to pick a favorite mascot."
Indeed: None other than the Phillie Phanatic made a guest appearance during Barry's debut bash at the main campus in Mount Laurel two weeks ago; Gritty "was too new to come," said Cioce.
"Barry is a friend to all and would welcome a chance to meet Gritty," Volpe said. "RCBC has a program for all interests. Could you imagine Gritty as a college student?"
Meanwhile, one of Gritty's people told me he doubted anyone would be available to comment on Gritty meeting Barry, or anything else, Friday.
I also sought an interview with Barry, but in deference to the traditional silence observed in mascot culture, I instead talked to his friend Devon Spedden, 23, a photography major from Pemberton Township.
"He's very cool," said Spedden, who claims to have encountered Barry before the mascot had officially joined the RCBC community.
"He's more down-to-earth than you'd think, although the costume [suggests] he's extra confident and cocky."
Cocky enough to rival… Gritty?
Or maybe Phang?
"Barry isn't a 'this is my spotlight' sort," Spedden said.
"He just wishes the best for everybody."
Perhaps Barry might be a rival to… Squiggles?
Said Volpe: "Barry's very comfortable with his own path."