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Meet the mascots of March Madness


All right, March Madness. It takes an entire season of hard work to make it to the NCAA men's basketball tournament, and not just on the part of the players and coaches. Oh, no.

EMILIO ORTIZ: Hello, my name is Emilio Ortiz. I am the mascot for Saint Peter's. I am Peter the Peacock.

NADWORNY: That's right, Peter the Peacock from Saint Peter's University in Jersey City, N.J.

ORTIZ: Yeah, yeah, we have a big tail. You know, we always shaking the tail during halftime, you know, going crazy.

NADWORNY: Off the court, Ortiz is a junior studying business and finance. On the court, tail feathers are shaking.

ORTIZ: Pete likes to do a little spin move and then, like, point to his hips and then do a little - like, a little shake. I would say that's his signature move.

NADWORNY: It's a busy time for the NCAA's mascots - among them, the Bulldogs, the Blue Devils, the Friars and the Dons. A time to shine, to show fans and the other team's fans the stuff you're really made of. Saint Peter's started the tournament as a 15 seed against 2-seed Kentucky. During that match, their mascots had a dance-off - Peacock vs. Wildcat.

ORTIZ: I put all my heart into that dance battle, even though I'm not the best dancer. I didn't take no dance classes or anything. So it was just, you know, all spirit. They played the Dougie. They played the Tootsie Slide (ph). I guess you have to bring out the little kid in you and really go back to those trends and, you know, just show a lot of spirit.

NADWORNY: But bird? Cat? Who won the dance-off? It's subjective. Of course, Emilio Ortiz says Pete won. His moves must have been magic because Saint Peter's won that game in the tournament's biggest first-round upset.

Now, Addi Mansini, a four-year cheerleader at the University of Richmond, and squad captain, says she knows a thing or two about what it takes to hype up a crowd. And she's got mad respect for her school's mascot, WebstUR.

ADDI MANSINI: We love when he comes over for fist bumps with those eight legs.

NADWORNY: Two, four, six, eight - eight legs. Yep. WebstUR is a spider.

MANSINI: He can get multiple fist bumps going. You got to be careful with his legs on the back. Sometimes they're a little bit dangerous. If he's spinning around, you got to watch out.

NADWORNY: Addi Mansini says WebstUR has got other moves, too.

MANSINI: There's the iconic foot stomp. He has got some fancy footwork, I'll tell you that. He can move those legs, and the crowd loves that. He really brought his dance battle skills.

NADWORNY: Pete, you better watch out. Mansini says some people might be creeped out by a spider, but she's seen a lot of minds change over the years, pulled in to WebstUR's web.

MANSINI: He is lovable and fierce at the same time. I've heard people be like, oh, my God, he's so scary. And then the next person that walks up is like, oh, my God, he's so cute. Like, I want to give him a hug. And he really has that balance of, like, fun and intimidating that, like, you want from a mascot.

ORTIZ: And the kids love mascots. When you're a kid, you know you really look up to the mascot. You're going to remember a team for their mascot. So it's a huge deal.

NADWORNY: It's also a hugely hot deal, as Emilio Ortiz, aka Peter the Peacock, can tell you. All that running around and getting the crowd hyped up means a lot of sweat in the mascot suit. But he says it's worth it, especially being courtside when your underdog team pulls off a massive upset.

ORTIZ: I started tearing within my costume. I just thought it was one of the best days of my life.

NADWORNY: As for Peter the Peacock's proudly risen profile...

ORTIZ: It's kind of, you know, blown up as a meme on social media. But I think Pete being known the way he is is just very unique and it's very different, and that's what's going to separate us from other schools and their mascots.

NADWORNY: That was Emilio Ortiz, Peter the Peacock from Saint Peter's University, which won its game last night against the Murray State Racers, so we can expect more strutting from Pete. WebstUR, however, is crawling back home to Richmond, smashed by the Providence Friars - 51 to 79.

(SOUNDBITE OF DONSOLO SONG, "DOUGIE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Elissa Nadworny reports on all things college for NPR, following big stories like unprecedented enrollment declines, college affordability, the student debt crisis and workforce training. During the 2020-2021 academic year, she traveled to dozens of campuses to document what it was like to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic. Her work has won several awards including a 2020 Gracie Award for a story about student parents in college, a 2018 James Beard Award for a story about the Chinese-American population in the Mississippi Delta and a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in innovation.