Luck of the Lions

Fur, football and frolic are major parts of Mark Klemish's job. So is Febreze.

Klemish is "Roary," the Detroit Lions' mascot. In addition to entertaining fans at games and making other public appearances for the team, he's got to care for the heavy, warm costume he often wears for five-hour stretches.

"I've got tons of Febreze," Klemish says. "It's always in my bag. Drier sheets too. That makes it smell a little better."

The 31-year-old is one of an estimated several thousand professional mascots around the country, according to Dave Raymond, the original Phillie Phanatic, one of the best-known mascots in professional sports.

Raymond runs the Raymond Entertainment Group, a Delaware-based company that helps teams and businesses create mascots, though Raymond calls them "characters." Part-time mascots can earn as little as $10 an hour while a handful of professional sports teams pay in the six figures for the gig, Raymond says.

"The best performers are skilled," he says. "They can communicate nonverbally. They can dance. They can have a great understanding of humor, comedy and timing and they work at it. They train. They get in costume. And they practice."

There's no typical route to becoming a mascot. Some people begin in high school or college. Others, like Klemish, hear the calling later in life.

Klemish, who also manages a bar, was working part time in the Lions promotions department when the Dunkin' Donuts race started during games. "I said, 'I want to be Cuppy Coffee,'" Klemish says. His brother was the Dashing Donut and as those plush, costumed characters, they chased each other and Biggie Bagel around the field.

Then, the long-time Roary couldn't make a game, and Klemish got a chance. That led to the permanent mascot position about 18 months ago after the previous mascot retired.

The demands of the job — five-plus hours in costume, always being in character, the challenge of finding new acts — were surprising.

"That costume was so hot. You don't sweat beads, it just runs down your forehead and into your eyes. I thought I was going to pass out," he says.

He does about 60 appearances a year — mainly for kids — in addition to the home games.

"I can see how important wearing a silly lion costume can be to these children," Klemish says. He's had children say they love him, that he's their best friend, that when they wear blue shirts to school, they're reminded of Roary.

"You get so choked up in that costume sometimes. I'm glad I've got a mask on," he says. "When I took this job, I did not expect that."

Sandra Svoboda is a Metro Times staff writer. Contact her at 313-202-8015 or [email protected]