Photo of Jerry Ukwela in the Spartie costume posing for a photo during new student move-in in 2023

The magic behind Spartie: 2024 graduate reveals the secrets of bringing CWRU’s mascot to life

Though his smile may be permanent, even Spartie has his off days.

Just ask Jeremiah (Jerry) Ukwela, a member of the Class of 2024 who portrayed Case Western Reserve’s mascot during his final year at the university—and the only student to don the costume in the 2023-24 academic year. A few months ago, Ukwela was in the Spartie costume recording some social media content in Triangle Towers Apartments when he ran full force into a door frame. Luckily, Spartie’s chiseled muscles also serve as padding, so Ukwela was unharmed.

“Spartie also takes up some space in an elevator, so running into residents around the building who were not expecting Spartie to be around was also pretty funny; lots of double takes,” Ukwela said. 

Although playing the part of Spartie involved a few mishaps and a lot of sweat, for Ukwela, his time as CWRU’s mascot was a transformative experience that pushed him outside of his comfort zone and allowed him to connect with the university community in a unique and meaningful way. 

In honor of today (June 17) being National Mascot Day, The Daily caught up with Ukwela to learn more about his experience embodying CWRU’s beloved mascot. 

Photo of Jerry Ukwela in his cap and gown

1. Can you describe a typical game day or event where you performed as Spartie?

I would typically pop into the Student Activities and Leadership Office about half an hour before the event to suit up and get over to where we needed to be. There’s also a Spartie handler (I like to call them the Spartie wrangler) to make sure I don’t trip or run into anything and for photos. As we all know, Spartie is a popular guy, so if the place was within walking distance, we would get stopped for photos all the way over there. 

The routine typically depends on what the event is. For larger events, Spartie is usually found walking around taking photos, waving hello and giving fist bumps. On particularly hot days, I would typically need a break every 15 to 20 minutes to cool off and drink some water.

2. What were some of the most memorable moments or experiences you had while being Spartie?

I think the first time I was Spartie was actually for move-in day this past Discover Week. Move-in day is one of my favorite days of Discover Week because the energy is always super high, so bringing some tried and true Case Western Reserve Spartan spirit as one of the first things incoming students experience was incredibly special. Interacting with new students and their families, helping them feel welcomed, and seeing their smiles and excitement was very rewarding.

3. How did being Spartie impact your overall college experience and your personal growth?

Honestly, I feel like I missed out on being Spartie during undergrad. Representing the university as Spartie gave me a unique perspective on the campus culture and allowed me to connect with a wide range of people, from students and staff to alumni and local residents. 

Wearing the Spartie suit gave me the freedom to express myself in ways I might not have otherwise. It pushed me out of my comfort zone and helped me become more outgoing. On a personal level, the joy and positive reactions from the people I interacted with as Spartie were incredibly rewarding. Bringing smiles to faces, uplifting spirits, and creating memorable moments for others enriched my CWRU experience.

4. How did your friends and family react when they found out you were Spartie? 

I think most people ask me what it’s like in the suit when they find out I’ve been Spartie (answer: it can get hot), but I never told anybody when I was going to be in there; I think it’s more fun that way. I know people try to guess who’s in the Spartie suit when he’s around. 

Running into people I know while I’m in the suit is always hilarious because they’re reacting to Spartie without realizing it’s me. Their genuine surprise and excitement make it even more enjoyable. Sometimes they’ll tell me later about how they saw Spartie doing something funny or cool, and I get a kick out of hearing their stories without them knowing it was me.

5. What advice would you give to future students who might be interested in becoming the university’s mascot?

You don’t have to be a super extroverted person to do the job! Spartie doesn’t talk, so it’s all about expressing yourself through actions and body language. Enthusiasm and a positive attitude are key, as you’ll be spreading school spirit and cheering on our sports teams. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box and bring new ideas to your performances either. Whether it’s introducing new moves or interacting in unexpected ways with the audience (a T-shirt cannon would be a good idea, right?), creativity can make your mascot persona memorable. 

Becoming Spartie is a unique opportunity to make a lasting impact on your university experience and the experiences of others. Embrace the role, enjoy the interactions, and make the most of every moment.Learn more about having Spartie attend your campus event.