NEWARK — It’s unusual to see birds dance. It’s even more unusual when those birds are more than 6 feet tall and they’re flitting around the classrooms of the local Catholic school.
As unusual as that may be, it’s an experience students at St. Michael School now can claim as their own. Spikes and Mittsy, the mascots for the Rochester Red Wings baseball team, visited the school May 15 to interact with the students and invite them to the team’s June 5 game.
During that game, up to 80 St. Michael students will be invited onto the field to hold the edges of a large American flag while the national anthem is played, said Paula Hinson, the parent coordinating this collaboration with the Red Wings. After the game the children will be invited to come onto the field and run the bases, and the entire crowd will be treated to a fireworks display. The school’s Parent Teacher Student Association thought such an event would be a fitting way to close out the 2008-09 school year, she said.
“The Red Wings are a symbol of Rochester, our city and our community, and we wanted to give our students, families and community the chance to come together at the end of the school year to celebrate,” Hinson said. “It’s just a way for us to celebrate the end of the year together and just come together as a community.”
Spikes and Mittsy’s May visit to the school was intended to drum up excitement for the game, said Principal Pauline DeCann. They arrived at the school at 10:30 a.m., escorted by Brian Kelvas, an intern with the Red Wings organization. Accompanied by DeCann and Hinson, the trio from the Red Wings made its way through the school, stopping at each classroom to let the mascots visit with the students.
After Spikes and Mittsy ducked through each doorway they wove their way through the desks inside, stopping often to give the students high fives and an occasional hug. Spikes showed off his dance moves as he made his way around each classroom wiggling, twisting and occasionally bursting out with a disco move. Mittsy, meanwhile, amused the students who noticed her brightly painted bird’s toenails poking through the tops of her sneakers.
Each class posed with Spikes and Mittsy for a class portrait. After one such portrait in one classroom, Spikes took a seat in a student’s vacated desk, picked up a science textbook and pretended to be deeply absorbed in his reading. After seeing this, one student excitedly ran over to Spikes, thrust his notebook at him and exclaimed, “I can just say that Spikes ate my homework!”
After Kelvas invited the students to the June 5 game and left a big stack of Red Wings bumper stickers with their teacher, the mascots and their entourage moved on to the next classroom. Jill DeCook’s sixth-graders were finishing up a spelling test when they caught sight of the large birds hovering outside their classroom door. Casting wary glances at the birds, they stood up and respectfully chorused, “Good morning, Mittsy. Good morning, Spikes,” when the mascots entered.
The students didn’t seem to be sure what to make of the giant birds, but most of them soon loosened up as Spikes danced his way around the classroom and Mittsy pretended to grade Joey Ruffalo’s test.
“Maybe one day some of you will be mascots,” DeCann offered.
“If you love standing on top of dugouts and dancing, it’s the job for you. These guys love it,” Kelvas said.
After a quick class pictures and hugs from six brave sixth-graders, Mittsy and Spike moved on to their last stop — the preschool classroom. The children had been sitting on a rug for story time with teacher Susan DiSanto, but the birds soon captivated their attention. One girl shyly reached up to touch Mittsy’s jersey, while several other children peppered the mascots with questions.
“I don’t think Spikes and Mittsy talk,” DiSanto explained. “They don’t need to talk, do they? Look at the ways they move their bodies.”
“How do you eat when you have the costume on?” an undeterred Spencer Searls asked Mittsy.
In response Mittsy brought her wings to her beak and mimed pushing food into it, a reply that seemed to satisfy Spencer. After posing for another pictures and delighting the children with their dancing Spikes and Mittsy left the classroom and headed back to Rochester.
St. Michael was the second stop of the day for the mascots, who visit schools about twice a week, Kelvas said. The St. Michael students were relatively calm when they met the birds, but that’s not always the case, he said. On one notable occasion students were so excited to see the mascots that they stormed them and started climbing on them, resulting in a broken wrist for one of the people in the mascot costume, he said.
“I love the reactions of the kids as you watch them,” DeCann said. “I think seeing (the mascots) on TV is one thing. When you walk in and see them here, that’s another thing.”