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These Greensburg Salem lions can stand the heat

| Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013, 8:09 p.m.
John Grim (from left) and Chett Scarpa Jr., freshman at Greensburg Salem High School stand for a portrait wearing the school's mascot's clothing on Friday, February 15, 2013. The two will be cheering on the school's basketball teams as mascots this season. Brian F. Henry | Tribune-Review

Their roles may not be as extensive as West Virginia's Mountaineer or Pitt's Panther or Penn State's Nittany Lion, but there's still time.

Meet the Greensburg Salem lions.

Freshmen football players John Grim and Chett Scarpa have been prowling around the high school gym as mascots for the Golden Lions basketball teams.

The two have been friends ever since they began playing midget football together.

Grim and Scarpa, both centers on the football team, dress in lion costumes and cheer on the basketball players.

“We have friends on the basketball team who wore the costumes once for a girls' game and we have friends who are cheerleaders who said they needed mascots,” Grim said. “We don't really have mascots so we decided to do it.”

How can a fan tell Grim from Scarpa when they wear the lion costumes?

Scarpa laughed. “It's easy,” he said.

His tail is about 1-foot long. He wears a large lion hat and mask that “someone has to be close to look through the eye holes and mouth to see my face,” Scarpa said,

Grim has a 5-foot-long tail that he flops over his shoulder.

“These costumes are baggy and are like jumpsuits,” Grim said. “They were made for someone taller than us. I wear a furry hood but it does not cover my face like Chett's mask so people can still see who I am.”

They presented their offer to serve to Athletic Director Lynn Jobe, who had the costumes stored in her office.

“Her reaction was ‘OK,' but there were certain guidelines we had to follow,” Grim said.

Jobe said she was pleased with their initiative.

She noted that the costumes are the property of the district and were used more extensively back in the days when mascots were more popular. They have been seen in district elementary school programs or during parades.

“They came to me for permission to do this — to serve as mascots when they would be available for games,” she said. "They are not part of the cheerleading squad and I established the groundwork for their behavior. I gave them a list of directives regarding their responsibilities and told them, in those costumes all eyes will be on you. They had to serve as role models and generate positive energy, be an example of positive sportsmanship.”

And the lions delivered.

“Both boys are invested in our athletic program and are well aware of the philosophy of our athletic program and what we are trying to promote. It's about students cheering for each other and for the team,” Jobe said. “What they are doing speaks volumes about their character and they've done a super job.”

While Grim acknowledged he and Scarpa are not members of the cheer squad, their friends in the group instruct them to follow along with various cheers.

“When the other team shoots foul shots we chant “Mess it up!” And we support our players when they shoot,” Grim said. “We do high-fives and fist-bumps with the cheerleaders when our team does something good.”

Grim said they are returning a favor. “We play football together so we decided to do this to support our friends like they support us when we play football,” he said.

Grim, who has a black belt in tae kwan do, admitted that their friends laughed when they first saw the pair in costume. “Chett and I kid each other about it. Here we are football players and we're doing cheers,” he said. “The cheerleaders said we are the best mascots ever.”

The only drawback, Grim reported: “It's very hot wearing the costumes. The first time we did this we were there for the junior varsity and varsity games and it didn't take long to get hot and sweaty.”

“When I get too hot, I take off the mask to get a breath of fresh air, then put the mask back on,” Scarpa said. “It's just fun being out there supporting the team, so I don't mind the heat.”

Scarpa said he and Grim receive playful teasing on Facebook.

But there is a method to their madness.

“Cheerleaders think we look cute in our costumes,” Scarpa said.

“Everyone who comes in the gym smiles when they see us,” Grim said.

Les Harvath is a freelance writer.

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