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He's a Sheep in Lion's clothing

January 25, 2007|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - The head of the Penn State Nittany Lion has been passed, and it landed in the hands of 2004 Chambersburg Area Senior High School graduate James Sheep.

Sheep, 21, a junior at Penn State and a member of its cheerleading squad, won the competition to become the university's mascot over six other students Sunday.

The son of Dr. Robert and Diane Sheep of Chambersburg can look forward to a very busy senior year, with about 300 appearances.

"We're one of the few universities that have only one mascot," Sheep said Wednesday. "That's one reason, I guess, we get full tuition."

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"On any given football weekend, you might have 10 or 11 events," Sheep said.

In addition to football games, there are basketball games, wrestling and field hockey matches, and other sports, as well as pep rallies, alumni events and charity appearances, he said.

"I think he'll represent Penn State very well," Diane Sheep said. "He's a good kid."

The selection process included interviews last week and Sunday's tryout at the university's indoor track facility, which Sheep said was a test of physical ability, creativity and personality before about a dozen judges and 100 or so supporters of the finalists, he said.

In the fall, he'll be putting those skills to work before crowds of 110,000 at Beaver Stadium.

Anyone who has seen the Penn State football team light up the scoreboard has watched the Nittany Lion celebrate by doing one-armed push-ups for every point. Sheep and the other candidates had to do 50 one-armed push-ups and run around the track carrying Penn State's huge banner.

Each was then handed a prop by current mascot Dave Johnson for a short improvisational bit to show off their creativity, he said. That was followed by skits designed by each of the lion hopefuls.

"I did a spoof on 'ElimiDate," the broadcast journalism major said, referring to a television show in which suitors compete for a date. In his skit, for which he made the costumes and props, the lion competed with the Fighting Irishman of Notre Dame and Purdue Pete, the Boilermakers mascot, for a date with "Rosie Bowl," Sheep said.

The lion took out Purdue Pete with a magnet and stole the Irishman's pot of gold before impressing Rosie by dancing to Michael Jackson's "Beat It," Sheep said.

At the end of the tryout, Johnson crowned the new king of the Happy Valley jungle by handing Sheep the lion's head.

Putting on the mascot's costume is almost like donning a different personality, Sheep said.

"I'm not really James Sheep anymore. I'm the Nittany Lion," he said. "It becomes an extension of you."

Sheep, who was on the basketball and track teams at CASHS, said he will wear the lion's costume tonight at a Penn State women's basketball game, but the official transition comes at the university's Blue-White Game. Sheep said he substituted at a few events the past two years when Johnson was making bowl game appearances.

Sheep, who tried out for the lion's job his freshman year, has been on Penn State's cheerleading squad for two years. Last week while visiting his parents, he attended the high school basketball game between Chambersburg and Harrisburg and was persuaded to put on the Trojan mascot costume and lead some cheers.

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