Tabor’s T.J. finds alternate way to bring crowd to its feet

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
He traded in his football helmet and cleats for an oversized Bluejay head and big, orange, fuzzy feet. But his goal at Tabor College athletic events is still the same-excite the crowd and bring it to its feet.

Tim Jones has transformed himself from a standout running back on the Bluejay football team, to being the man inside the Bluejay mascot at Tabor basketball games.

In either case, the kids look up to him and the Tabor faithful clamor for more.

Jones, a freshman, left his nest in Fort Worth, Texas, and made his way to Hillsboro when coach Tim McCarty offered him a football scholarship.

Jones football talents were brought to McCarty’s attention courtesy of Jones’ cousin, Richard Chandler, an all-conference offensive lineman for the Bluejays.

But how long did it take Jones to hatch the idea of shedding his macho image as a talented running back and dress up and prance around as a 6-foot Bluejay?

“At ‘Midnight Madness,’ somebody came up to me and asked me to do it and I said, ‘Yeah, sure,'” Jones said simply. “In high school, I had thought is would be fun to be the mascot, but I was always busy playing sports and never did get a chance to do it.”

Jones, a graduate of O.D. Wyatt High School in Fort Worth, confesses he liked to have fun when he was around some of his fellow 1,300 students.

“I’m a natural class clown,” Jones said with a smile.

With his appearance numbers at Tabor still few, Jones is working to perfect his role as the basketball-court jester. Walking a fine line between comedy and distraction, Jones tries to entertain without interfering.

“What I do really depends on what comes up at the time,” he said. “They haven’t told me what I can or can’t do, but I’m not going to do anything disrespectful to the other team.”

Don Krebs, interim dean of students, said Jones’s demeanor and personality make him perfect for the role of “T.J. the Bluejay.”

“I don’t think he’d ever do anything that would project a negative image of Tabor College,” Krebs said. “I think he has a personality that projects enthusiasm and excitement and has a great relationship with all the student body.

“You won’t find a nicer young man coming out of the heart of Fort Worth,” he added. “Tim always has a big old smile on his face.”

Much like his feathery predecessor Ted Giannoulas, the original San Diego chicken, Jones must entertain the crowd in short intervals, keeping in mind the wide disparity of ages.

“I like it when little kids come running up to me and give me a hug,” Jones said. “I’ve only had one little one scared of me. Sometimes when I get a drink and take the costume head off, the kids recognize me, too.”

While Jones’s costume isn’t as heavy and bulky as some other mascots on the sports scene, it nonetheless has some of the standard pitfalls.

“It can get hot in there, but we took care of that,” Jones said. “We put a battery operated fan inside the costume and it actually keeps me really cool.”

Vision is another obstacle Jones must overcome, since his sight is limited to looking through the beak.

“I’ve never run into anything, yet,” Jones said. “I can see kids if they come up from the front, but I can’t see too good from the sides.”

But Jones’s on-court antics are what incite the hometown crowd, and consequently sometimes puts the opponent in a “fowl mood.”

“At Midnight Madness, this dude was playing the drums and I went up and started drumming on his head,” he said with a laugh. “Then at the Kansas Wesleyan game, I held the ball out for one of the Coyote players and when he reached for it, I threw it backward between my legs.

“He laughed, but I don’t think he thought it was too funny.”

Jones also joined the Coyote cheerleaders in their dancing routine, much to the delight of his fellow Bluejay supporters.

“I just go out and do whatever I think will get the crowd going and laughing.”

Krebs credited Jones for being an integral part of the Bluejays come-from-behind overtime victory over Kansas Wesleyan.

“I think he was definitely a factor in that game,” Krebs said. “The way he got the crowd going, motivated and off their seats really helped.

“If you want to call him the sixth man, that’d be all right.”

Although Jones gets a birds-eye view of the games, he must also be careful not to interfere with the main attraction.

“The referee told me to stay back and out of the way, but he thought what I was doing was funny,” Jones said. “He was laughing with everybody else.”

While all Bluejay enthusiasts seem to enjoy Jones’s escapades, his football teammates seem to be especially energized.

“Preston (Neufeld) and Willie (Lopez) actually passed me up through the crowd,” Jones said. “The other players laugh and have fun watching what I’m going to come up with.”

But just in case he gets a bit overzealous, cousin Richard is always watching.

“Rich kind of watches me and tells me not to get out of hand,” Jones said with a laugh. “I tell him, ‘It’s OK, I know right from wrong.'”

While Jones’s initial appearance found the Bluejay outfitted in a referees shirt, he said other apparel will appear in the future.

“I thought maybe I’d wear a dress shirt with a tie,” he said. “Or maybe I’ll get an old Tabor basketball uniform, with the shirt and shorts.”

Jones said he hopes to unveil a new dance number during the home contest with Bethel College Jan. 31.

“They say that game gets pretty packed, so I’m going to come up with something special for that one.”

Jones said he enjoys the individual spotlight as the Bluejay, but he performs with no financial compensation.

“I don’t get paid anything at all,” he said. “But I feel comfortable with the costume on and I really enjoy doing it.”

Plans call for Jones to appear at most, if not all, of the remaining home games. Road appearances aren’t out of the question either.

“I play basketball, too, so I could just pack the costume and take it with me,” he said.

Thus far, Jones’s ornithological show has drawn positive reviews.

“I think he’s doing a great job,” Krebs said. “We don’t have any cheerleaders this year, so he’s filling a void. He creates a lot of fun and the students really respond to Tim.”

Jones himself has modest aspirations for his new job.

“I just hope people have a good time at the game and enjoy some of the things I do,” he said. “I hope the Bluejay gets them excited and into the game.”

Krebs agreed. “I hope people come out of the gym and say, ‘Man, that was a great game, and we couldn’t have done it without the Bluejay.’

“We don’t want him to take away from the game, just add to it.”

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