The Mason Spirit: The Magazine for Alumni and Friends of George Mason University

Inside Gunston

For some, inside the suit can be the best seat in the house

By Ryan Effgen

Mike Ickowitz, B.A. Communication ’03, is a die-hard Mason sports fan. During his undergraduate years when he watched Mason athletics, he riled up the audience, tormented the opposing team’s fans, flirted shamelessly with the Masonettes, and even taunted the occasional police officer. While any other fan might be ejected from the stadium for such behavior, for Ickowitz, this was just part of the fun of being Gunston, Mason’s beloved furry green mascot.

When Ickowitz was a sophomore and working at the Patriot Center, he became a regular at the basketball games at a time when attendance was low. “I mentioned a few times that being Gunston would be a cool job,” he says. “After a few phone calls, it became clear that it was in reach.”

He first appeared as Gunston at the women’s basketball games in 1998; later, he appeared at alumni picnics and other public events. “Part of Gunston’s role is to be a draw for the kids— something to get the Mason alumni to come back and bring their families.”

But Ickowitz soon found that being Gunston requires skills you can only acquire on the job. “You have to learn how to wear the costume,” he says. “It only weighs a few pounds, but it is all in the head and shoulders.” Ickowitz describes seeing through the eyehole (which is Gunston’s mouth) to “using a cereal box as binoculars,” and in the beginning, his inadvertant falls would prompt the crowd to chant, “Gunston’s drunk!” He also had to learn to pace himself so that he wouldn’t overheat. He suffered from heat exhaustion two times—one of which was when Mason went into overtime at the 2001 Colonial Athletic Association men’s basketball tournament.

His first Gunston costume exuded the rank locker room odor one associates with stadium sports. “Words can’t describe it,” Ickowitz says, “and the only source of ventilation was through the eyehole.” Fortunately for Ickowitz, the costume went through an upgrade, with the addition of pockets for ice packs.

“As far as college mascots go, Gunston has it really good,” Ickowitz says. “He has his own dressing room, he gets paid, and he gets his own cooler of water and PowerAde at every game.”

Knowing that he wouldn’t be Gunston forever motivated Ickowitz to cut loose. “It was all about getting where you weren’t supposed to be. I tried to do it differently each time. Sometimes I would grab the hat off of a guy’s head and toss it out onto the floor. When he went to retrieve it, I would steal his seat and put my arm around his girlfriend. When else can you get away with that?”

He gave a flower to a Masonette at every game and came up with creative ways of doing it, sometimes with the help of a child in the audience or a soldier who was there to sing the National Anthem. For the most part, Ickowitz had carte blanche in his duties as mascot; however, at times, officials had to stop his antics. On one occasion, he had arranged to ride a Harley into the stadium but a fire marshal intervened at the last minute.

Ickowitz has found that his time as Gunston affected his social life and his career. There’s nothing like jumping around before a packed stadium to cure one of stage fright and give one confidence to speak before groups. As an academic advisor in the Admissions Office of American University, he tours the country speaking with prospective students.

Mason is still a big part of Ickowitz’s life. His wife, Tanya, works as an assistant director in Mason’s Admissions Office, and Ickowitz is a season ticket holder for men’s basketball. But these days, he is content to watch the games, and Gunston, from the stands.