Monday, September 25, 2023

Sparty is graduating: Meet the woman who played MSU's mascot for 4 years

May 6, 2022
<p>Senior advertising major Maddie Scanlon has been one of three women to represent Michigan State University as Sparty since her freshman year in 2018. </p>

Senior advertising major Maddie Scanlon has been one of three women to represent Michigan State University as Sparty since her freshman year in 2018.

Photo by Audrey Richardson | The State News

In the history of Michigan State University, only three women have served as the college’s beloved mascot, Sparty. 

Advertising senior Maddie Scanlon is the third. 

Scanlon revealed her 4-year secret to the world Thursday afternoon on social media and will keep the tradition of wearing Sparty’s boots when she graduates from the College of Communication Arts and Sciences Friday night.


Despite Scanlon’s love for MSU and Sparty — ‘the big guy’ as she calls him — her path to the university and mascot was not a direct one.  

“I actually was supposed to go to the University of Alabama and it ended up kind of being just like a money thing … Michigan State offered me more money,” Scanlon said. “Obviously, now, I'm so thankful that it happened that way.”

Scanlon originally intended to join the crew team when she came to MSU, but ultimately decided against it. Scanlon joined the Kappa Delta sorority but said she still felt as though there were more opportunities for her to take advantage of at MSU — that was until she saw Sparty on the sideline at a football game her freshman year. 

“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, that's so cool, I wonder what I could do to be that.’” Scanlon said. “So the next day, I looked it up online and it was a whole, audition process that was kind of available and the application was open only for like a few more weeks, so I just was like, ‘Alright, I'm gonna apply and see what happens’ … then the journey and the audition process kind of continued from there.”

Scanlon joined the Sparty team in November 2018. There is a hefty training process in order to understand how to play and become the character, Scanlon said. 

“They want to make sure that, one, you have enough time to kind of understand and fully be able to embody Sparty, but also, they want to make sure that you get fun experiences and get to go and travel and stuff,” Scanlon said.

It wasn’t until she got older that Scanlon understood the magnitude of how serious her role as MSU’s mascot was. 

“Obviously at 18 and just kind of like transitioning into college … I'm trying to learn this character, but I'm also trying to do well in school,” Scanlon said.

Portraying Sparty is completely voluntary, and due to the time commitment, Scanlon said it sometimes equates to a full-time job depending on the number of events, but the university covers meal costs for travel and provides the student with MSU athletic gear.

“Everything else is just volunteer,” Scanlon said. “You do it because you love the school.”

During her time as Sparty, Scanlon said she worked every football game and almost every basketball game. She traveled to the Maui Invitational with the men’s basketball team in 2019, the Peach Bowl last December and the first and second round of March Madness in South Carolina earlier this year. Additionally, she filmed an ESPN commercial in Los Angeles and other Michigan events including weddings, graduations and campus events. 

The first and second women who were Sparty 

Alumna Erin Bormes, class of 1998, and Nicole Niemiec, class of 2018, are the only other women to portray Sparty. 

Bormes was Sparty during her junior and senior years after her mom encouraged her to try out. 

Niemiec was Sparty for three years during her time at MSU and graduated right before Scanlon started her freshman year. 

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“It was nice that she had just left and I was kind of coming on because she was still pretty much like around to answer questions I had,” Scanlon said of Niemiec.

Niemiec said Scanlon reached out to her when she was trying out for the role after she saw an article about Niemiec being Sparty.

“It meant a lot to me, I got goosebumps when I saw (her message) because I was like, ‘Yes, let's go, let's keep it rolling’ and I know she's done a fantastic job,” Niemiec said. “I cross paths with her a lot since she's had it, so I've seen her and so I'm proud, not that I'm not proud of everyone else, but you know, there's a magic there.”

All three women met at a Sparty alumni reunion and frequently keep in touch.


“I actually just sent (Maddie) and Nicole a picture this morning and just told both of them how proud of them (I am),” Bormes said. “To me, it's endearing to see them embrace this, do this and with the zest in life that they have, is just awesome.”

Bormes said it is fun to have a subgroup of women within the group of past and present Spartys, since it is a male-dominated position.

“I had reached out to Nicole while she was on squad, when I found out, and also Madison,” Bormes said. “To get to see them here and there at maybe a game has always just been encouraging to make those connections.”

Niemiec added she has a bond with Scanlon and Bormes.

“You understand what they're going through and you're nothing but happy; you want success for everyone,” Niemiec said. “You want more women to do it. You don't want them to be discouraged by the height requirement or the physical activity or being a manly character. Those are all things that can be overcome.”

Bormes said Scanlon deserves to be celebrated and spotlighted for the hard work she has put into the program. 

“It's a cool feat and there's only three of us right now that have said that we could do it and this is her time to shine and we're so proud of her,” Bormes said. “(Sparty) is something that you do with not a lot of glory and honor, and that's not what we're doing it for, but there's a lot of time and energy that they put into on top of being a student to represent Michigan State University.”

Playing a male mascot as a woman

Scanlon said it was difficult for her at first to be on the same learning curve as everybody else as a female portraying a man, but thanks to the people she worked with, she never had a problem or felt out of place. 

“It is something that you notice just in a locker room; you're the one difference,” Scanlon said. “It is pretty serious and it is pretty great that I was able to have the opportunity, but I would say that everyone that I was surrounded by was just super respectful and super excited that I was given this, and I deserved it and did well in my audition process to make it happen.”

Scanlon said there are not a lot of women in the mascot field and that it needs more representation. 


“I feel like people kind of are under this impression that like ‘Oh, I can't be Sparty because I'm not a guy’ or ‘Oh, I can't be Sparty because he's big and smelly and has to be the big strong guy on campus and that's not true: I did it for four years,” Scanlon said. “If you're willing to put in the work, really try to make yourself the character and be the greatest mascot in the world, there's no problem in doing that. And if you have an outgoing personality and fit the requirements to be Sparty, there's no reason why you shouldn't try out.”

Scanlon credits her parents for being her biggest supporters who pushed her to be Sparty. 

“This has been the greatest four years of my life,” Scanlon said. “I don't really know what to do with myself, now that this is kind of over.”

Scanlon also gave a shout-out to her fellow graduating Spartys.

“They did just as much work as I did and they deserve just as much credit,” Scanlon said. “Us together as a team really showcased and did Sparty proud and I'm proud to be graduating with them.”


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