Hail to the Lion

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Nittany Lion has unfinished business.

After not cracking the top 10 in the 2015-16 Universal Cheerleading Association mascot competition, the Lion is aiming for No. 1 in 2016-17 — and the Lion Troop is ready to help take Penn State’s beloved mascot to the top spot.

Enlisted by the human in the Lion costume, the Lion Troop student group is comprised of three juniors and one sophomore who contribute their talents in video, set making, props, construction, dance and publicity to raise the mascot’s profile in the national competition.

For Ryan Heidig, a senior film major in the College of Communications, working in the Lion Troop means “being able to combine my passion for Penn State and being a part of something that’s totally unique to Penn State. Using my skill set to produce content for the Lion and really affect audiences is my way of giving back to the University.”

Their skits are approved by Penn State Athletics, with the guidance of adviser and Cheerleading Coach Curtis White. He explained that “the Nittany Lion is given precious time to perform the skits in front of Penn State’s well over 100,000 fans at a football game. The skits must be entertaining and energized. This takes a ton of work and creativity. Being creative is the toughest part of any performance. The Lion Troop is an important piece in the puzzle.”

Last year, the troop helped the Nittany Lion enter the Universal Cheerleading Association’s mascot video competition, with a submission showcasing the Lion’s work at Penn State community events, where the Nittany Lion placed 13th.

Penn State student Ryan Heidig films families and the Penn State mascot during the 2016 THON event at BJC.

Lion Troop student member Ryan Heidig films the Nittany Lion and a family in February 2016, as the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon goes on all around them in the Bryce Jordan Center. A small group of students called the Lion Troop assist the mascot throughout the year and especially for the Universal Cheerleading Association mascot competition, which includes a video submission of the mascot's work with the Penn State community that year. 

Image: Bill Zimmerman

Now with one year under their belts, members of the Lion Troop are confident they have the right formula. Changes for the 2016-17 video submission will include more props and more planning, which the team hopes will propel the Nittany Lion to the live skit portion of this year's competition, to be held in Florida in January 2017.

According to Heidig, they have a “more defined plan for logistics and for making sure [they] create something that really encapsulates what the Lion does, and to see that it utilizes more of what the competition is really looking for,” because the rules and judging are very detailed. 

Typical of Penn Staters, the Lion Troop students bring an enthusiasm that goes beyond their primary goal — they also assist the Lion in his everyday work throughout the year as they’re filming.

Nittany Lion 2015: Year in Review

Last year, the Lion Troop helped Penn State's Nittany Lion enter the Universal Cheerleading Association’s mascot video competition with a submission showcasing the Lion’s work at Penn State community events. The troop is working this year to improve on the Lion's 13th-place showing in the 2015-16 competition.

“People sometimes forget that there is a person inside there and sometimes it is good to have someone who is like a handler to really help the mascot get through the crowd,” Heidig said. The Lion Troop can be the Lion’s eyes and ears as they tail the mascot through home games, community service and events like THON. They’re the voice, too. The Nittany Lion does not speak.

“Representing the Lion, to be able to interpret what the mascot needs, is something that I can really do to help,” said Heidig.

Heidig first connected with the Lion while growing up in the same hometown. Later, the Lion noticed his videography talents because of a Facebook video that Heidig posted of the annual student-organized music festival Movin’ On, where he directs the marketing. Heidig’s prior internships have helped him find the best approach for getting the Lion in a winning position for the competition. Some of those techniques include bringing pop culture to life in the mascot’s skits and incorporating Jumbotron videos during events. Recording and producing video of the Lion is a big time commitment, but he was able to use some of the video footage in his film major and documentary class.

The actual student playing the part of the Lion will be revealed during the mascot’s last football and basketball home games of the upcoming season.

Until then, by way of a nodding head and flapping ears, the Lion expressed anticipation of achieving a higher ranking in the mascot competition this year.

Stay tuned for more updates on the Lion, the Lion Troop and their upcoming 2016-17 competition. You can keep up with the Lion Troop on Facebook or via their Instagram account, @lion_troop.

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Last Updated August 26, 2016