Rootstown: Every photographer in Northeast Ohio who wasn’t standing in front of Amanda Berry’s house on Wednesday was on the campus of Northeast Ohio Medical University.
That would be four people.
But still ... this was big.
Let the record show that the long-awaited unveiling of NEOMED’s first mascot in its four decades of existence took place at precisely 12:37 p.m. Eastern Daylight Saving Time.
Ladies and gentlemen ...
It gives me great pleasure to introduce you to ...
Seriously. That’s NEOMED’s new mascot.
Fortunately, Ambulocetus will go by his more common name, the Walking Whale.
Yes, a whale. In Rootstown.
Perhaps a word of explanation is in order.
The selection of this tightly stuffed, blue-on-blue Walking Whale is tied directly to a discovery made in Pakistan in 1993 by a NEOMED scientist, Dr. Hans Thewissen.
While rooting around in the dirt, Thewissen uncovered evidence of a now-extinct whale-like creature who not only swam the seas but walked the land.
So if the university was trying to appear cutting-edge, it’s 48 to 50 million years too late.
The good news: The whale trounced an unworthy competitor, the Rising Phoenix.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with rising from the ashes. That is infinitely better than staying there. But when you think of the word “phoenix” in conjunction with the word “university,” your thoughts tend to wander to a certain nationwide, for-profit network of computers whose graduation rate is 16 percent.
During an exclusive interview with the Beacon Journal, the Walking Whale — nicknamed Nate — explained how he was able to defeat the Rising Phoenix.
“Easy,” he gurgled. “I wasn’t wearing tights.”
The big fuzzball with the sailor cap was hardly a unanimous choice, though. Thirty percent of more than 600 students, faculty and alumni who cast ballots went with the opposition.
Among them was Julie Pokersnik, a second-year med student from New Concord who backed the big-beaked bird because “I just thought it seemed like a more intimidating mascot. It seemed a little more fierce — not that we have a lot of sports teams.”
Actually, you don’t have any sports teams, Julie. Which is exactly why so many off-campus smart-alecks (present company included) have made fun of the addition of a mascot.
For an explanation of this unconventional move, we go straight to the top — NEOMED President Jay Gershen.
“That’s a great question,” he replied, clearly attempting to butter up a skeptical visitor.
“We take a lot of pride in the fact that we’re now one of the 14 four-year public universities in Ohio. The other 13 have a mascot, and we need one, too.”
In other words, he caved to peer-group pressure. Shameful.
Selecting the NEOMED mascot took longer than most universities require to name a president. After a monthlong nomination process in the fall (which drew more than 100 entries), a committee chose four semifinalists in December. Those nominees spent two weeks campaigning, and in early February another vote narrowed the field to two. After another two-week campaign swing, Election Day finally arrived on Feb. 26.
On Wednesday, Nate the Walking Whale was welcomed into the mascot world by Akron’s Zippy, Kent State’s Flash and Cleveland State’s Magnus.
The Hiram College Terrier also was scheduled to appear but was a no-show. Perhaps he was busy gnawing on a mailman.
The Walking Whale’s unveiling was paired with an outdoor graduation picnic that drew 300 students, faculty and staff, many of whom later swarmed around a long table set up to distribute free T-shirts featuring the new mascot’s smiling snout.
So ... how much cheering could a mascot cheer if a mascot couldn’t cheer games? The school says Nate will make a general nuisance of himself hanging out at “special events, random hallway prize handouts, photo shoots and more.”
Note to any NEOMED student who may not be fond of whales: Things could have been far worse. Just ask the kids at the Delta State University in Cleveland, Miss. Their mascot is the Fighting Okra.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or firstname.lastname@example.org.