When Ben McArthur takes the field this Friday for the first football game of his senior year, it will be as if a weight has been lifted off his shoulders. Literally.
McArthur, who portrays the band mascot “Obie the Tiger” will be wearing a brand new costume as he runs “Carry On lines” and cheers the team to victory. The old costume, which debuted in 2010 is a combination of a synthetic body with an actual tiger head taken from a previous Obie costume.
The old costume is big, bulky, and hot for the performer, while the head weighs in at almost 10 pounds. The new costume is both lighter and more streamlined in the body, but the real advantage is in the head. The new head weighs about 4 pounds and provides the wearer with increased visibility and ventilation.
A Custom Mascot
The Massillon Tiger Band Boosters and band staff, realizing that the Obie costume was wearing out and was in need of replacement, began looking at options for a fully synthetic outfit that had the look and feel of a real tiger. After exhausting many options that proved to be too “cartoony” or just didn’t read well from the stands, they turned to the world of the theatre.
When Sharon “Suzy Q” Campbell heard about the project, she was interested. Campbell had just retired as Associate Professor of Costume Design from Kent State University. She said “I don’t take on projects like this very often, but I’m intrigued.” Suzy and her husband Robert Katkowsky, himself an accomplished scenic designer and sculptor, make and maintain “Slider“, the mascot for the Cleveland Indians.
Suzy and Robert began work on the costume in late 2018, sculpting the new head and securing multiple fur samples. Along the way they consulted with Jim Henson Studios and Jacquard Dye Company, ensuring that the final design would look like an actual tiger.
With the costume fitted and the head sculpted, the furry body was sent off to Jonathan Hrusovsky, whose detailed painting skills brought the tiger to life. Hrusovsky specializes in custom airbrushed shoes, and makes shoes for many professional baseball players, including the Indians’ Mike Clevinger. A pair of his airbrushed cleats is enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. This was his first time airbrushing tiger stripes, and he, too, was intrigued by the project, saying “[I] always like taking on new challenges and this was a big one.”
The staff and boosters were concerned as they embarked on this project – customizing a costume that is such a part of the tradition of the band and the town. “We certainly felt the weight of what was at stake in this project. Trying to make sure that we could uphold such a long-standing tradition in a new way was daunting, to say the least,” said head director Jason Neel. “I’m very pleased with the final product, especially considering how much safer and versatile the new costume will be for the student performer. I hope the fans will be pleased, as well.”
Suzy said of this unique opportunity, “This project was done with the idea of giving [the band] a way to have as real a tiger as possible without having to use a real tiger pelt. It also meant continuing my husbands and my own personal growth and education…..which I believe is what keeps us both young!!!!”
When word of the project got out many people asked what they could do to help make it a reality. Many Swing Band Alumni stepped up with donations, and additional donations came from individual WHS alumni, and the Eagles #190. The WHS Alumni Association, and the Cincinnati Bengals (who have ties to Massillon dating back to legendary coach Paul Brown) each made generous donations. “A custom project like this one has some pretty significant costs, and we want to thank everyone who contributed. Without their support we couldn’t have made this happen”, said band booster president Nicole Morgan.
Obie the Tiger debuted in 1938 when George “Red” Bird procured an actual tiger skin from his contacts in Hollywood. Obie would dance and entertain the football crowd both on the sidelines and at halftime. Many of Obie’s initial routines were developed from the comedy acts that Bird had witnessed during his time on the vaudeville circuit. Over the years Obie has become a fixture at halftime shows, band reviews, parades and community events. Each new Obie builds on the traditions of the past and infuses the character with a little bit of their own personality and flair!
Once again on Friday night, this time with a new Obie…It’s Showtime!