This piece was co-authored by Oksana Durkee.
Maximus, UA Little Rock’s new mascot, has garnered mixed reactions from students. While the athletics department says it has received overwhelmingly positive feedback, a recent survey from the Forum suggests a mostly negative response.
Though the new mascot had been in development since spring 2018, athletics kept it under wraps until October, when a slow reveal culminated in Maximus’ first appearance at the annual Meet the Trojans event. Besides choosing the mascot’s name in a Twitter poll, students had no direct involvement in the change.
“We wanted to go full steam ahead with this season,” said Darius Maize, director of internal operations. “We wanted to give our students and fans something to kind of be a catalyst that they could kind of gather around and have that enthusiasm around.”
Several respondents to the survey voiced frustration with the change, wishing that the athletics department had first consulted the student body.
“By no means did we want this to go in that direction,” said Chasse Conque, vice chancellor and director of athletics. “I regret that some may have taken it this way, and I’m very sensitive to it, but I hope that our body of work over the last four years demonstrates that our students are extremely important to us, and we’re here to help enhance their college experience.”
Conque indicated that he and the other members of the department feel a sense of responsibility in trying to increase enrollment, and he believes that making athletics’ presence known in the community is a possible route for recruiting future UA Little Rock students.
“We’re here to serve the students, we’re here to serve the community, and we’re here to bridge the relationship between the institution and the city of Little Rock and Central Arkansas,” Conque said. “The students’ input and experience has been everything we have been about.”
Eric Silakowski, associate athletic director for external operations, says that it is more than simply student opinions which athletics must take into account, as the Trojans have a larger fanbase, including families from the Little Rock community.
“All I received was negative responses about our old mascot,” said Silakowski. “It was kind of tarnished at that point, no kids were taking pictures with it, families were not excited about it.”
Silakowski claims that more fans are taking pictures with the mascot because of his “family friendly” image. According to the directors, this leads to increased brand exposure and helps spread the word about student experience at UA Little Rock.
Changing the mascot, done with the assistance of Olympus Group, cost about $6000. Conque says that the money came from the department’s marketing and promotions budget, so the effects of the change were felt only within athletics.
In order to create Maximus’ design, the department pulled from other Trojan-themed mascots such as those of Rutgers, Michigan State, and Troy University.
“What we ultimately landed on was what we thought would be our best version of a Trojan,” Maize said. “I think our mascot is an embodiment of what is already out there, with our own added touch to it.”
Exactly how Maximus embodies the institution, the directors did not make very clear. They did say that his design is meant to capture the spirit of fun that can be seen with other mascots in our conference.
Aside from the mascot itself, athletics also made a point to recruit a freshman to don the suit, whose name they like to keep secret. The directors indicated that Maximus would play an integral role with the dance team in a way that Trojan Man did not.
“The biggest piece for us was trying to do as much as we can with the resources that we had and also getting some kind of interest from a student that could be really good at this,” Silakowski said. “[Maximus] wants to grow, and he wants to be good at it.”
While the department insists that it has received almost universally positive responses and more questions than complaints, the Forum’s survey paints a different picture. Of the 193 responses, around 83 were negative in nature, and 92.7 percent said they preferred Trojan Man to Maximus. The Forum also spoke with individual students about their reactions toward the change.
Among the common grievances were that the new mascot is ugly, that it hurts UA Little Rock’s image, that the change was a waste of money, that student opinion should have played a greater role in the decision, and that, contrary to the athletics department’s intentions, Maximus might actually scare smaller children. Some of the responses are as follows:
“The change wasn’t as positive as I had hoped it would be. The new mascot seems to cheapen the school,” one respondent said.
“I’m just curious as to who makes the decisions on campus like this. Maybe I should be more involved on campus,” another said. “I love UALR but since I’ve been here I’ve been somewhat disappointed.”
“I think the old mascot was a lot more fierce, which is something that is traditionally valued in a mascot. In my opinion, the new mascot looks like a mockery of a Trojan warrior.”
There was a total of eight positive responses, making up 4.1 percent of all respondents. An additional 11.9 percent gave indifferent responses.
“I like Maximus but I feel they could’ve done more.”
“I like him! He looks more like a real mascot and not just a person in a morph suit!”
“I mean, I don’t dislike the new mascot. He seems cool. I’d invite him to my party. I’d probably just invite Trojan Man first.”
To view the full list of responses, click this link.
With this first wave of negative feedback, Conque says the department is likely to conduct closer research of student reactions. He said he could not give an answer at this time as to whether athletics would consider reverting back to the old mascot if most students turn out to favor it.
Until that happens, if at all, Trojan Man is stowed away safely. But it is possible that the next time we see him he will be propped up in the Bailey Alumni Center along with other relics of the university’s past.