ASU’s new Sparky can’t compete with Yuma High’s Criminal

The first wave of public reaction to the facelift that Arizona State has given its iconic sports mascot has rolled in – and evidently does not include the open-armed acceptance school officials had hoped to get from its fan base.

Sparky’s new look, which was supposed to generate new love from its younger fans, evidently has fallen flat with many of the Sun Devil faithful – including some alumni who have threatened to pull back on future funding in protest. According to an article in The Arizona Republic, the ASU Undergraduate Student Government has even passed a resolution that would ban the new mascot, developed through a partnership the school has had with the Walt Disney Co., from being on hand at games.

The new look – which includes huge eyes, a more muscular physique, and a snide little mustache reminiscent of artwork that was generally applied to creepy cartoon characters – drew comments from the school newspaper, The State Press, that said the new Sparky “looks like a villain from a Disney movie.”

What’s ironic here is that one of the Arizona high schools is involved right now in a contest to pick the best mascot in the country.  And their mascot is a… criminal.

It’s true.  Yuma High School won the state-wide portion of the online-voting Best Mascot Contest being put on by USA Today and is now up against schools from five other regions around the nation.  That portion of the contest concludes tomorrow, with the national competition taking place next week.

The Yuma High Criminal received 10,284 votes – which was 95 percent of all those cast in the state-wide voting. People in Yuma evidently don’t have enough to do with their free time.

According to the school’s archives, the name “Criminals” was attached to the sports teams back in 1914, when a football opponent called the players criminals after losing a game to Yuma.  The students must have liked the idea and soon adopted the criminal as its official mascot.

Now, a century later, the ASU students and alumni are having issues with being associated with an image that’s even less sinister-appearing than the snarling, crew-cut inmate that represents Yuma High School.

The original Sparky, created by a Walt Disney artist some 60 years ago, will still appear with his pitchfork on various sports merchandise and clothing.  But the new guy was supposed to be more versatile in the school’s marketing efforts, with possible spin-offs into children’s books and short films.

His facelift was supposed to make him more kid-friendly, and his muscled costume was supposed to remind his new fans of a modern version of a super hero.

Looks like the idea was good.  But the execution has gone a little off track.

And that’s so unfortunate that it’s almost… criminal.