Fans of Mason’s sports teams have seen the Patriot mascot evolve from a man dressed in colonial garb to large-headed fuzzy cartoon characters with crazy socks to a dapper, almost superhero Patriot.
The early history of Mason’s mascots is a little fuzzy itself. Perhaps the strangest of all the mascots appeared at the first annual bonfire in 1985—the Mason Maniak, an unidentified animal character with a huge head and a t-shirt bearing the words, “Mason Maniak,” complete with lightning bolt. This furry character wore bright striped pants and was often seen dancing to the cheers of spectators.
George Malenich, a university Physical Plant trades technician, played the Mason mascot for more than 10 years as several different characters, including a patriot, a gorilla, and good old furry Gunston. “It was the only time I could ask other women to dance and not get in trouble with my wife,” he says with a laugh.
In the early 1990s, Malenich wore the Patriot mascot costume, which had a cartoon head with a two-foot tall hat. That mascot was retired in 1993 when George Johnson, then president of the university, decided that a white male mascot did not fully represent the diversity of the university’s campus. Because Coach Paul Westhead, the men’s basketball coach at the time, liked his players to be fast and strong, Malenich says a search was on for a new mascot that was fast and strong. The result was a short-lived gorilla mascot.
The Green Mask, a mascot based on the Jim Carrey movie The Mask, cheered on Mason sports teams during the 1995–96 academic year. Malenich not only played the Green Mask for the Patriots’ games, he also used the costume for several Washington Capitals games, because the team’s goaltender that year was named Jim Carey.
In late 1996, during a basketball game against Ohio State, the furry green Gunston made his first appearance. Although Gunston’s look changed over the years, the name and concept remained the same. While no one was really sure what exactly Gunston was, he traveled with the men’s basketball team to the Final Four and even appeared on Good Morning America. Eventually Gunston retired from sports and went on to teach children about the Earth and energy conservation with the “Go Green with Gunston” program.
The Patriot, the mascot we know today, arrived in time for the 2009-10 basketball season and has been inspiring Mason spirit for almost a decade.