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Just about everyone knows someone who has been bullied, in ways big and small. Understandably, though, many victims are reluctant to speak about their experiences. We found some who aren't.
By ANGELA SKANE, St. Petersburg High
I stood outside the gym, face to face with the devil, an oversized, rubbery faced devil head with a smile that could make small children cry. I picked the head up and sniffed. Only a hint of the Glade apple cinnamon spray lingered. I had fumigated it earlier, liberally, to disguise the stench. This molded plastic prison smelled like, well, what you would expect the inside of a devil head to smell like. Or at least one that has been worn by a profusely sweating human at every St. Petersburg High home football game for the past three years.
I held my breath and lifted the head onto my shoulders, slipping my arms through straps to hold it steady. The next task to tackle was getting the jumpsuit on. As I shoved my left foot into the scratchy devil suit, I began to wobble. The giant head fell forward and almost brought me down with it. I regained my balance, braced myself and reattempted the jumpsuit, shimmying carefully. I tied on the cape. Success.
Except I couldn’t really see. The mesh screen in the devil’s mouth only worked as a peephole if I tipped my chin way down, and that threw my giant head forward. I felt like a green devil bobblehead.
What was I thinking? In a fit of school spirit, I had volunteered to wear the costume of the school mascot, the St. Pete High Green Devil, at a home football game. The devil works the crowd, sways with the cheerleaders, tries not to scare children. Usually, students line up to volunteer to wear the costume, but there were two possible openings, this date in September, and homecoming. I was not wearing the devil on homecoming.
Finally, my guide-friend arrived to help me navigate onto the field. This was difficult because in addition to holding my head up with one hand, I also had to hike the jumpsuit up to keep from tripping. Apparently, most devils are taller than me. But I doubted any were sweatier. It was a hot, humid evening, and from the instant I zipped up my green suit, I began to sweat. My tank top clung to my skin. My hair was drenched. Sweat trickled from my forehead into my eyes. It was hotter than, well, the devil’s home.
With my friend steering me by the elbow, I reached Stewart Field just as St. Pete High’s singing Pitchforks performed the National Anthem. Did I say I was hot? I couldn’t think, I couldn’t focus on anything. What was I supposed to do? I never took the Mascot 101 class. There isn’t one, I found out. I would have to wing it. A cameraman from Catch 47 TV shoved his camera in my face. Well, in the green devil’s face. That was awkward. Next, the cheerleaders linked up with me to sway to the alma mater, but ooh, my jolly green head was so large it was hard to keep time with the cheerleaders. Then they bolted for the other side of the field to greet the players. No way was I running anywhere. By this time, I was sopping.
As the players ran onto the field, one of the team managers handed me a green pitchfork. I waved it in the air as I gamely jogged up and down the sidelines, my cape floating behind me in the self-generated breeze. The breeze was refreshing, but the devil tail kept flopping between my legs. Ick.
No one really paid much attention to me. I felt like a failure of a mascot. I tried to pump up the fans by waving my arms to get them to stand up, since that was my job. But no one was eager to stand up or even clap with me. I walked up into the stands, but my head was so big and the bleachers so crowded at the sold-out game that this wasn’t a good idea. Students grabbed my head, poked me and spun me around.
I moved farther down to where the families were sitting, hoping to play with some little kids. Again, bad idea. One look at my devilish smile and three toddlers dissolved into sobs. One more try. I told myself to do what I do best — dance. This green devil pulled out the running man. But people still weren’t paying attention to me, which made me dance even more frantically. I danced and twirled around and around. Then I remembered how hot I was.
I only lasted half the game in the green devil suit. Principal Al Bennett came to my rescue, a replacement in tow. The three of us took a golf cart to the fieldhouse, where I peeled off the suit and freed myself from the head. At last, I was in the air-conditioning.
I feel bad for the poor chap who had to get into the suit after me.