By Nick Carson
Altoona Area High School graduate Isaiah Arpino came to KU four years ago and knew exactly what he wanted to do. It was the same thing that he had been doing for almost eight years. Arpino was a mascot, so he became Avalanche.
The Communication Design major has been a member of KU’s Avalanche Team for his entire four year college career, and like many others this coming May, he will be walking at Commencement. Like other students who will be leaving the university this summer, Arpino leaves with many great memories of experiences not many students can say they have had while in college.
KU’s Avalanche team, led by Arpino and the help of his co-workers and employers Erin Blank, of Keystone Mascots, and Dave Raymond, of Raymond Entertainment Group, have hosted several mascot boot camps, which brought students from up and down the east coast to KU to learn the basics of being a good mascot.
Earlier this month in fact, Raymond and Arpino helped eight performers, including KU students Jeffrey Thomas and Isabelle Martinez, begin their careers as professionally trained mascots. The students spent an entire weekend of sweat and exhaustion in the Rec Center, learning the ins and outs of performing for anything from a hockey game to a small scale appearance.
Arpino has spent a good part of his career at KU sweating and tired, with cuts and bruises all over his body, but he’ll be the first to tell you that it was all worth it.
“It’s all part of the job,” Arpino said about his many injuries sustained while in costume, the least of which was a broken fibula in 2010. “They’re battle wounds. If you don’t end up hurt, you aren’t performing hard enough.”
As the most experienced performer on KU’s Avalanche Team, Arpino has been responsible for most of Avalanche’s biggest appearances in the last two to three years. Arpino was the man behind the mask for KU’s most historic football games, including their first undefeated regular season, and the school’s first ever PSAC Championship win, in front of a screaming home crowd.
In his time at KU, Arpino has also put on the Avalanche costume for many appearances outside of the school. From Reading Royals hockey games, to Hooter’s birthday at Temple University, Arpino and the entire Avalanche team have done their share of traveling.
Despite the fact that these performances are exciting, as one could imagine, Arpino has a different, somewhat unlikely favorite appearance in his career as KU’s Golden Bear. His favorite types of appearances are the more community driven events that are held at KU, and he was quick to point out KU’s annual Special Olympics as a highlight of his time as Avalanche.
“I love that [KU’s Special Olympics] probably more than any other appearance,” Arpino said. “It’s just fun to interact with the kids, and those are kids who really appreciate me being there. They love Avalanche, and some of those kids go hard when we’re dancing or stuff like that. It’s definitely a challenge.”
Despite leaving all these fond memories behind, Arpino is definitely looking forward to his future as a performer. Arpino is currently employed with the Altoona Curve, the double-A baseball team associated with the Pittsburg Pirates and Raymond Entertainment Group. Arpino has traveled the country to perform for both of these jobs, and with graduation, Arpino is hopeful that he’ll see even more employment opportunities.
“I’ll miss Avalanche, but it’s time for both of us to move on,” Arpino said. “We both can move on to bigger and better things. He needs to experience new performers, which we have now and I think they’ll do a great job. And I need to move back to doing this professionally. It’s been fun, but I can’t wait to move on and do this more often.”