Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Guys, girls don Big Al costume; tryouts begin next Thursday

With Trent Richardson filling in for an injured Mark Ingram as star running back, all eyes were riveted to the field as the Crimson Tide dominated Penn State with a final score of 24-3. That is, all eyes except for those of one lone elephant named Big Al who finally took his—or, more accurately, her—once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to crowd surf as the fans erupted in celebration.

Macee Thomas, a freshman majoring in secondary education, rested happily on the outstretched palms, relishing the final realization of a goal she had set for herself in the seventh grade and worked diligently towards ever since—to become Big Al.

“I actually started as a mascot for my middle school and began a mascot program at my high school because we didn’t have one,” Thomas said. “Big Al was just a lifelong goal I set for myself. When I found out I made it right after high school, it was almost hard to believe. I guess it feels like I really accomplished something.”

Thomas said it’s difficult being a girl and playing a male character like Big Al, but she spent years going to football games with her father and mascot camps studying his “personality” so that she could emulate his mannerisms and leave her girly traits outside the suit.

“You have to learn to be an animated, larger-than-life character,” she said. “You can’t worry about getting in trouble. You just go out there and take whatever situation you’re in, and make it a big deal.”

“It’s kind of a good title to have,” said Butch Hallmark, program coordinator and one of five current Big Als. “We are looking for people who can develop the Big Al personality, which is goofy overall, but energetic and outgoing. His walk, on the other hand, is a different story. It’s a mix between Santa Claus and George Jefferson.”

A rigorous tryout process will begin the Thursday before A-Day with a business casual interview, followed by clinics on mascot basics and learning the Big Al walk. There will be field walks on Friday, where candidates put on the suit for 15-20 minutes at a time and interact with people on The Strip. Each person will also have the opportunity to create a skit during tryouts to be performed before the first cut Friday night.

Those who make the initial cut have one more test they have to pass—crowd involvement on A-Day.

“A-Day will serve as the best gauge on whether someone can handle being Big Al or not,” Hallmark said. “Factors such as the fans, the heat and the atmosphere of game day in general will allow us to decide the final roster.”

Hallmark said it is smoldering inside the Big Al suit at 40-60 degrees hotter than the outside temperature. He said the worst part by far, though, is the smell.

“There is no smell that compares with Big Al after you have been inside the suit for an hour or two,” Hallmark said. “It doesn’t matter how many times you wash it; it smells like sour mildew and sweat. It’s disgusting.”

However he finds interactions with kids to be the most rewarding part of his job as Big Al. And he said it is a full-time job, in every sense of the word.

“We go to birthday parties, alumni pep rallies, all of the major sporting events, and you get to do a lot of traveling,” Hallmark said, who does not recommend trying out for Big Al if you don’t have a great deal of time to offer the program.

There is no height, weight or gender requirement, though, and everyone is welcome to try out.

“We are looking for mature people who would represent the University and the Big Al program with dignity and be fully capable of carrying out those responsibilities in a mature way,” said Mary Jo Grant, program assistant. “It’s not just a play thing or someone getting in a suit that looks like Big Al and acting crazy. There are actual characteristics we expect them to carry out.”

Grant said the biggest problem students face is time constraints, and while she stresses that grades and school are a number one priority for participants, Big Al has to be the second.

“It takes a lot of dedication,” she said. “Everyone seems to want Big Al at their birthday parties, no matter what age they are, and at their weddings, no matter how many they’ve had. Big Al has done bar mitzvahs, and someone even requested him as a pall bearer, although we declined that.”

Christmas break can even be cut down to 3-4 days for Big Al, who is busy competing for a national championship against well-known contenders such as Aubie from Auburn and Goldie from Minnesota, a contest Big Al won in 1998.

While everything settles down more in the spring semester, Big Al never gets an offseason. But the commitment seems well worth it for students like Thomas and Hallmark who also receive scholarships and have the opportunity to earn money for some of their public appearances.

Hallmark said the adrenaline he feels on game day is incredible, even as moms rush towards him across the Quad with large cameras and screaming children in tow.

“Mary Jo has always said it takes a special person, in every sense of the word, to be Big Al. You either have it or you don’t. People think of mascotting as just getting in a suit and dancing around, but that’s not even the main thing we do. Our job is to interact with the fans.”

Have you ever wondered what it would feel like to represent the University as everybody’s favorite elephant? Applications are due by Tuesday, April 12, in Room 163 of Coleman Coliseum, and next football season it could be you in that No. 1 jersey.


More to Discover