Sports are truly secondary at times like these. Thoughts and prayers to the family and friends of Jason Ray, the cheerleaders, band members, the athletes, the athletic department staff and Tar Heel Nation.
Worth posting here… just a link doesn’t do it justice.
[COLOR=Blue][B][SIZE=3]Tears For A Ram[/SIZE]
By Adam Lucas, TarHeelBlue.com
March 24, 2007[/B]
When you’re in the mascot business, you’re used to giving, not receiving.
Give a high five. Give a hug. Give a smile.
Calling it a “business” is a bit misleading, of course. That implies that it’s somehow lucrative. It’s not. Being a mascot falls in the same category as being a band member or cheerleader–you’re part of the integral fabric of college sports, but no one notices you unless they have a complaint.
But at least a trumpet player or a tumbler can show his face. When you’re a mascot, you learn to see the world through two small eye holes. You have to speak only with your gestures. It’s hot in there–really, really hot.
Jason Ray traveled with the tools of his trade in a black trash bag. That’s how he walked into the North Carolina Children’s Hospital last fall. He looked like just another tall guy in a Carolina windsuit. There were plenty of them around, because the football team was making its regular pre-home game Friday visit to the hospital. At that moment, tall guys in Carolina windsuits were the rule, not the exception. But what was that big, bulky thing in his bag?
“Hey,” he said. “Do you know if there’s a place where I can change?”
Ten minutes later, Ray was gone. Rameses had appeared. He’d put on the costume he carried in the bag, including the enormous head, and proceeded to do exactly what Rameses always does–make people smile. Kids smiled. Parents smiled. Even a few football players smiled.
If you’re a parent of a small child, you know that the only thing more entertaining than Tyler Hansbrough for them at a Carolina game is the sight of the ram. My kids are no different. They can be in the middle of a full-scale meltdown, and three simple words will snap them back to rapt attention:
“Where’s the ram?”
He might be getting passed through the student section. Or maybe he’s over there directing the band. Whatever he’s doing, they love it. One of my favorite pictures of my daughter, McKay, is her sitting on the steps at a women’s basketball game, shoulder-to-shoulder with Rameses. He looks gargantuan. She looks tiny. I like to think of both of them that way.
As a daddy, there is nothing better than making your kids laugh. So this is an enormous admission: Rameses can make them laugh even better than me. He runs out of the tunnel, he dances like the Blues Brothers, and sometimes he even sits down on press row and slums with the media. Look at the picture, but don’t look at the giant ram. Look at the smiles of the faces on the people around him.
If you’re a parent, this is the kind of day you dread. Rameses is going to be on the news frequently in the days to come as more news trickles out about the car accident in New Jersey that took his life.
What do you say when your kids ask you why Rameses is on TV? Mascots don’t die. And neither should college kids.
You watched one Carolina team squeeze out a victory last night in the Sweet 16. They flew to New Jersey on a plane packed with other essential members of the traveling parties–associate athletic directors, band members, cheerleaders. And the ram.
Without a mascot–no, that’s not it, they were without a team member–the cheerleaders were given the option of cheering at the game last night. They chose to do it, and to watch them you would have never known what they knew. In order to make sure all parties had been informed, Carolina didn’t confirm the accident until the second half of the basketball game. Even before then, though, there was no outward sign of distress from the cheerleaders. They were as professional as amateurs (that’s what we all are here, even the players) can be.
Until you ran into them immediately after the game in a Meadowlands hallway. It wasn’t the looks on their faces that were most telling. It was the fact that almost every single one of them was on a cell phone. They were trying to get news, trying to relay news, trying to find out what they had missed during the three hours they were on the court.
Communication, of course, is one of the hardest parts of being a mascot. That fall day at the Children’s Hospital, Ray–as Rameses–walked up to me. His big paw was grasping a folded piece of paper, and he was making a motion I didn’t understand.
I eventually figured out he wanted me to hold the paper for him until the event was over. Once all the kids had been hugged and the last picture had been taken, Rameses finally disappeared…and Jason Ray reappeared.
“Thanks for holding that picture,” he said. As he unfolded it, he proudly displayed a child’s drawing of Rameses.
“I’d like to take this with me, if that’s OK,” he told the program coordinator. “One of the patients gave it to me.”
Then he walked out, big bulky trash bag in one hand, picture in the other. It was the perfect portrait of someone who had spent most of the day giving… and unexpectedly received something, too.[/COLOR]