Opinion: Writing about Owlsley shouldn’t be this difficult

The school’s spirit department takes itself too seriously. Instead of a feature on the life of a university mascot, I was given half truths and tall tales


Owlsley. Alexander Rodriguez | News Editor

Katrina Scales, Managing Editor

Imagine you’re a 21-year-old college student surrounded by adults trying to convince you that the Easter Bunny was a living, breathing rabbit.


That’s how it felt reporting this story about FAU’s mascot, Owlsley.

Managing Editor Katrina Scales. Joshua Giron | Photo Editor

I decided to pursue this when I noticed an instagram post from @fau_owlsley asking students to “join his team.” Essentially, the mascot asked students to apply for his job, which I did in the hopes I would learn more about the tryouts.


There are three basic criteria a student must meet to qualify for the job, according to FAU’s website. You must be a full-time student enrolled in 12 credits or more, your GPA must be 2.5 or higher, and you must swear to keep your identity a secret.


But that’s all I know.


With each source, I asked harmless questions about the job — its pay rate, costume features, and responsibilities — but would continuously hit dead ends.


After getting no response for days from the mascot’s current manager, I decided to reach out to former Owlsleys, who are mostly graduated students and alumni.


And while I did get some feedback, I realized the answers all had something in common. They were phrased as if Owlsley was a real-life burrowing owl.


I shit you not.


Don’t believe me? Here’s part of my exchange with former Owlsley Joshua Puchferran, who worked as the mascot from 2013 to summer 2017, according to an FAU News Desk press release.


I asked questions that most students at FAU probably wonder themselves.


Me: How did [the costume] work, were there cooling fans?


Puchferran: “Owlsley is a very fun loving character with many unique qualities including big wings, a large beak, great eyebrows, and a plethora of outfits for every occasion. Unfortunately Owlsley doesn’t molt like most birds so he is usually quite hot.”


So…maybe I wouldn’t get an answer about the costume. Fine. I had other questions.


Me: What made [you] want to be Owlsley?


Puchferran said via email: “I was hesitant at first because people talk a lot and owls don’t.  So, that was culture shock, but once I saw how much joy I could bring people by being a giant, goofy, loveable owl, I figured this is a pretty good gig.”


It was at this point that I began to lose my mind. How could he keep this show going and not break character? He’s graduated, any obligation he has to FAU to keep Owlsley a mystery is gone.


Thankfully, the University Press has reported on Owlsley in the past when FAU’s football stadium was still under construction and tradition or team spirit wasn’t exactly at an all-time high.


Back then, the press received straightforward answers to their questions about the feathery mascot. The person who volunteered to be Owsley in 2010, a student named John Saxton, told the editor about how tough the job could be.


“I was always exhausted, so I didn’t want to go to the gym,” said Saxton. “I just wanted to sleep.”


The story also mentions that three students were hired to be the mascot: two senior and one junior. The senior mascots would earn $2,208.70 per semester and the junior would earn $1,112.80.


That’s about $18.88 an hour.


The money comes from Activity and Service fees, paid by students and managed by Student Government, which then budgets it for student organizations and on-campus events.


It’s the same money that pays members of Student Government.

President John kelly sits at a university basketball game with Owlsley. Photo courtesy of Mohammed F. Emran

These days, being Owlsley pays about the same as the 2010 senior mascot. According to the 2018-19 A&S budget, the mascot is paid $9 per hour and works 15 hours a week. That’s $2,025 per semester.


Jamie Ortiz, the adviser to Owlsley, told me the job comes with “tuition benefits,” which could mean the students’ FAU bill is fully or partially reimbursed while serving as mascot.


Alas, my dreams of becoming the next university mascot were cut short when I received an email from the Owlsley team saying mascot tryouts had been cancelled “due to the lack of response.”


So here’s what I know: there are at least two students who wear the mask. I stumbled across the name of one copied in the tryout cancellation email (who refused comment and whose social media hints to their position as Owlsley) and the other was confided to me by a mutual friend of the student.


When it comes to school spirit, I couldn’t care less. But I get why the students’ identities are secret.


FAU is starting to climb the ranks in athletics and overall recognition. And when the leaders want its people to be patriotic, the smiley spirited facade is protected at all costs.


But that shouldn’t mean virtually all aspects of Owlsley’s job are kept from the public. I never asked for the students’ names behind the mascot, I just wanted to detail what their day-to-day life looked like.


Owlsley is FAU’s “biggest fan” and it’s clear no one wants me to uncover any logistics of the mascot team.


I’ll conclude with a final quote from the man, I mean, the bird himself:


“On a real note, I know what you’re trying to get at with this story, and your curiosity is based in a question that I think everyone asks: “Who is Owlsley?” The answer must remain no one because only then can it be anyone.  A lot like Batman in the dark night, Owlsley is a symbol of what it means to be an FAU student.”


Anthony Spataro contributed to the reporting of this story.


Katrina Scales is the managing editor of the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected]