By Brent Frankenhoff
A familiar face at many Amherst Falcon events for more than 40 years, Freddie Falcon recently got his fourth makeover and was unveiled to spectators at a boys basketball game February 17.
Varsity Cheerleading Team Coach Kimberly Pingel, who headed up the effort to acquire a new Freddie costume, told the Spirit, “The old costume was in very poor condition. I had the high school art department repaint its beak, and Brylea Eschenbach sewed the leather feet back together. It was also heavy and hot, and there was a safety concern with how difficult it was to see out of. Freddie always had to have an escort to ensure he didn’t run into anything.
“The cheerleading team used him at every home football game, and he has made an appearance at Homecoming the last few years. The cheer team has also been utilizing Freddie in some simple stunts, and his current design was not made for that. My goal is to incorporate him more into the elementary, middle, and high school sporting events and activities.”
Taking more than a year to explore various options, Pingel said that she found just the right look for the new Freddie at BAM Mascot Inc., a manufacturer based in Canada. “They worked with me to design a friendly, fun, and functional Freddie. I wanted him to look approachable, where if a younger student wanted to come up and give him a hug, they were not afraid to. But I still wanted Freddie to look young and modern and sturdy enough where he can do stunts and some tumbling.”
With a cost of $5,700 for the new costume, Pingel next sought out funding for her vision. “We live in an amazing community,” she said, “and several wonderful organizations stepped forward and helped make my dream become a reality. They include Amherst Youth Football and Cheerleading Program, The Amherst PTO, the Lions Club, and a personal anonymous donation.”
Freddie’s more than 40-year history began around 1980 when that year’s Senior class proposed and executed the idea of a mascot for the school. Mike Garske, who procured and donated the third Freddie Falcon costume to the school, told the Spirit, “My brother, Gary, was in the Class of 1980 that hand-sewed the first costume in Home Ec class and created the head out of chicken wire and papier mâché.”
That costume, which was used from 1980 to 1986, was “really heavy, and people were close to passing out in it because it got so hot,” Garske said. “It was the first mascot costume Amherst ever had. Rosholt copied us and did one the following year, and then other schools, including Iola-Scandinavia, created their own mascot costumes.”
Amherst alumnus and High School Secretary Merry Dudley told the Spirit that the second Freddie Falcon costume was handmade by Susan Sannes and was used from 1986 to the early 1990s. A one-piece all-blue suit that had a black mesh screen in the head to see out of, the costume disappeared near the end of its tenure due to school construction. Its current whereabouts are unknown, but Dudley said that Sannes’ daughter, Lori, would love to see it if it resurfaced.
With the second costume no longer available, Mike Garske, who owned a local tile business, said he was approached for an annual athletic sponsorship but had a different idea. “I offered to buy a new costume in lieu of a sponsorship,” he added.
Garske did some research and found a company that made mascot costumes for colleges. “They normally didn’t do high schools,” he said, “but they put one together from my design for $2,500.” Because of the company’s focus on college mascots, its patterns were designed for a larger-framed user and couldn’t be scaled down for high-school use, explaining Freddie’s somewhat floppy look these past 30 years, depending on who was in the costume.
To cut costs, Garske and other athletic supporters opted to not purchase a vented head with a battery-powered fan for an additional fee of $800. Pingel said that the 2023 costume “is equipped with an electric fan in the head.”
Garske himself wore the new costume for its debut at halftime of Amherst’s 1992 Homecoming game. Looking back at the past 30 years of his donation’s use, Garske said, “It’s been kinda neat to see the costume at sporting events. Kids would come up and tell me how neat it was to wear the costume and thanked me for buying it.”
While various students and athletes have donned the Freddie costumes over the years, Pingel said that there hasn’t been any one way those students were chosen. “For the cheer team, we have had one athlete the last several years that has worn him,” she added. “We usually have a few students that are interested in doing it.”
Always a bubbly personality, Pingel summed up her feelings about the whole process when she said, “I couldn’t be more pleased with how the makeover on Freddie turned out and how happy I am to see my vision come to life and how amazing our community is. I truly hope seeing the new Freddie brightens everyone’s day!”
Student athletes welcomed the new Freddie Falcon to Amherst at the boys basketball game February 17 (left), while Varsity Cheerleading Team Coach Kimberly Pingel (right, with microphone) thanked the donors who helped her fulfill her dream of an updated mascot costume.
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