Inflatable moose provides 'fan entertainment' at games

by Deborah Bernstein | 10/13/98 5:00am

In addition to field-rushers and fans with painted chests, Dartmouth football fans at this year's Homecoming should be on the lookout for a giant, waving, inflatable moose.

Assistant Director of Athletics Brandon Macneill emphasized that the moose, played by College students John Vallapiano '02 and Chance Hill '01, is "fan entertainment," not a mascot.

"We're the Big Green, we're never going to be a moose," Macneill said. "We're just trying to spice up the games, make them a little more fun."

Vallapiano and Hill, who each don the suit for a half of home football games, see their roles as entertainment for the fans. Their spur-of-the-moment greetings of fans and students are improvisations, not practiced routines, they said.

Being the moose entails waving and hugging younger fans, throwing a football around the crowds and running up to students who want to greet it.

The moose also improvises interactions with the marching band and the cheerleaders, although moving and dancing is difficult until the occupant is used to wearing the suit.

Students also like to hit the moose and try to knock it -- and the student inside it -- over.

Hill and Vallapiano both find the suit cumbersome. "You do a lot of work walking around because it's so big," Vallapiano said.

Despite the perils of the job, Vallapiano said he loves it.

"I love making people laugh," he said.

Hill said everyone at the games seems to enjoy his appearances, including the football players. "They're all smiling and laughing at me," he said.

Neither Vallapiano nor Hill has previous fan-entertainment experience. Vallapiano said he was part of a club, the Rowdies, which cheered and was "loud and obnoxious" at his high school sporting events.

Hill received the call to duty after an interview during Spring term. Macneill got Vallapiano's name when he expressed interest on a prospective visit last spring.

Hill, who has only performed at one game so far, is looking forward to Homecoming and other elaborate entertainment opportunities. He hopes to have a toy bulldog as a prop for Saturday's game against Yale University.

He's also prepared to dodge and throw back snowballs fans aim at him when the weather gets colder.

Macneill said the moose costume is equipped with skating capabilities and he said he hopes it will make appearances at hockey games in the winter. The moose will also entertain fans at Homecoming men's and women's soccer matches this weekend, and at basketball games Winter term.

The moose suit is kept in Macneill's office when it's not in play. While Vallapiano and Hill don't get to wear it to classes or to sit on the Green, they both can foresee wearing it to other events around campus, especially Dartmouth Night festivities.

Brainchild of Jon Heavey '97, the moose suit was the winner in a student poll held several years ago which asked about possible entertainment options. Heavey worked with Macneill last year and this summer to pick out a new moose suit to replace the old one, which had sagging antlers.

Macneill said the athletic office is looking for more people to fill the moose's shoes -- or hooves.

Energy is a key criteria for the job. "You have to be very hyper and goofy and have some coordination in you," Macneill said.

"Any height, size, shape and sex can be in the suit," Macneill said.