Students compete to wear the big feet

Running, dancing and shooting hoops while dressed as the University of Miami’s favorite bird, two students competed to spread their wings and soar into the position of the new Sebastian.

Tryouts held at the Hecht Athletic Center on Sept. 29 looked to replace a former Sebastian who graduated and flew the coop.

Candidates danced for 60 seconds to a song of their choosing and for another 30 seconds to a song selected by one of the judges. The applicants were then critiqued on their mobility in the costume, improvisational skills and creativity.

The identities of the candidates were asked to be withheld due to the nature of the position.

One of the Sebastian hopefuls entered the gym to a Dick Vitale song. He then performed to Gary Glitter’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll Part Two” and proceeded to get a laugh out of the judges when he accidentally snapped his Miami Hurricanes flag in two.

Judges also required contestants to act out scenarios using random props on the gym floor, such as a green feather boa and a can of silly string.

In addition, the contestants were asked to perform the ubiquitous C-A-N-E-S cheer, using their bodies to spell each of the five letters, as well as shoot challenging baskets. Both had trouble dribbling the ball around the court and missed a series of half-court shots.

After an exhausting, four-minute physical tryout, one of the competitors was breathing heavily.

“I’m about to die here,” he said.

Connie Nickel, the associate athletic director, and two of the three students who are currently employed as Sebastian the Ibis conducted the interview portion of the tryout. The judges asked the candidates questions about their school pride, dedication and availability.

“[The job] comes before everything except for school,” Nickel said, “and you have to want to sweat a tremendous amount and drink a lot of water two days before an event.”

The judges also asked the contestants why they want to be Sebastian.

“You know you’re contributing to something greater than you are,” one of the contestants said.

“You are the face of the school and to leave a lasting mark on the spirit of UM and be part of a longstanding tradition is extraordinary.”

One student who is currently employed as Sebastian said that getting into costume is an elaborate process-it smells terrible and the temperature inside the suit is 30 degrees above the temperature outside.

“Contrary to popular belief, there is no fan inside,” he said.

“The costume is just for you, no one but you is allowed to get into it,” Nickel said to the contestants, though she added that a special exception is made for President Donna E. Shalala, who occasionally likes to don the costume at events and calls Sebastian “her best friend”.

Nickel said the student mascots also have access to the same privileges as athletes, which include tutoring services and athletic training.

Community appearances, such as weddings, bar mitzvahs and birthday parties, are the bulk of Sebastian’s work. He goes to every home sporting event and travels to some away games, Nickel said.

There are at least 250 appearances, on and off-campus, that Sebastian makes a year. Each of the four Sebastians makes around three appearances a week.

“It’s a blast,” one of the current Sebastians said. “I got to meet so many people like the entire football team, The Rock, Donna Shalala and Dwyane Wade.

“It’s an adrenaline rush when you’re out there in front of screaming fans,” one of the current Sebastians said. “You must have a lot of restraint because parents ask for the most ridiculous things for their kids.”

He described parents who dangle their children over the stadium rail, “Michael Jackson style” for Sebastian to hold.

Nickel said being Sebastian is a huge responsibility and a tremendous honor for one to have.

At the time of publication, the new Sebastian has not yet been selected.

Nicole Alibayof may be contacted at

October 13, 2006


The Miami Hurricane

Student newspaper at the University of Miami

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The Miami Hurricane is the student newspaper of the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla. The newspaper is edited and produced by undergraduate students at UM and is published weekly in print on Tuesdays during the regular academic year.