Field of Play: Mascot brings meaning to Pan Am Games | Sports | CBC Sports

Field of Play: Mascot brings meaning to Pan Am Games

Posted: Thursday, July 18, 2013 | 11:38 AM

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Pachi the porcupine, the official mascot of the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto, poses Wednesday with his creators. (Scott Russell/CBC Sports) Pachi the porcupine, the official mascot of the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto, poses Wednesday with his creators. (Scott Russell/CBC Sports)

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To the kids who are attracted to him, Pachi the porcupine is as much a symbol of sport as he is the official mascot of the Toronto 2015 Pan and Parapan American Games.  

It is just a mascot. Nothing more than a caricature of a porcupine in a comical suit.

But then again, it seems to me that the unveiling of the official ambassador of the Toronto 2015 Pan and Parapan American Games brings so much more to the table.

And at just the right time.

In excess of 1,000 kids swarmed the atrium of the CBC Broadcasting Centre in downtown Toronto to witness the mascots' arrival, with hundreds more outside shooting hoops and striking soccer balls.

pachi4.jpgAll of them were there to see "Pachi", a friendly creature and the brainchild of Grade 8 students at Buttonville Public School in Markham, Ont.
The students won a contest to design the official symbol of the Games. Organizers garnered more than 4,000 entries from more than 15,000 students in a Canada-wide campaign to give a face to TO2015, which is almost exactly two years away.

More than 30,000 Canadians voted online and Pachi got the nod.

"You can't believe how important this is in terms of activating the Games with kids," said Ian Troop, the chief executive officer of TO2015 and head of the organizing committee. "It should be a joyful time and a time of celebration."

pachi3.jpgAnd so it was.  

It strikes me that young people are attracted to things like mascots, which represent a sense of wonder in sport. The entire process was an exercise in fun 'n games and cemented in them an attachment to the essential nature of sport itself.

"Kids innately know that sport is good," said Shelley-Ann Brown, an Olympic silver medallist (bobsleigh) who brought a bunch of kids she teaches at a summer camp in nearby Scarborough, Ont.

"They start walking, they start running and they connect with people they are familiar with. It's great to have heroes on TV, but it's better to have heroes you can touch."

pachi2.jpgBrown is a first-generation Canadian whose parents arrived here from Jamaica just before her birth. She began her athletic career as a sprinter and was an All-American at the University of Nebraska before moving into Helen Upperton's bobsled at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

The recent spate of alleged doping violations involving sprinters Tyson Gay, Asafa Powell and Sherone Simpson is upsetting for Brown, who spends much of her time working with young people at Camp EDIFY (Education and Direction for Intelligent and Fit Youth).

"It's sad," Brown said. "From my point of view, track is one of the purest sports."

"You are on the line alone and you run," she reckoned. "It makes me sad for so many people who want to believe that those steroid days are behind us."

pachi5.jpgYet the cloud hanging over a sporting landscape increasingly dominated by money and adult concerns seemed lost on the children this day. All that mattered was the mascot, the karate demonstration performed by kids just like them and the spectacle that a thousand balloons and streamers created. It signalled something special, maybe even magical, about the impending Pan American Games in their hometown.

"Mascots provide a personality and a sense of comfort, not only for the kids but also for the athletes," reasoned Rosie MacLennan, who won Olympic gold in trampoline at the 2012 London Games.

"This is a way for us to engage with kids and let them know that, once upon a time, we were just like them with the same high hopes and dreams."

pachi6.jpgIt was, in a word, "enlightening" to be there.

It made me think that young people begin their journeys in sport unencumbered by the seriousness of it all. 

To them, the machinations of cycling's tainted Tour de France are of little consequence. The win-at-all-cost mentality of the media empires who own the professional sports teams in Canada's largest city are not even on their radar screens. 

There is a lot less at stake for those taking their first steps onto the various fields of play. Certainly, not fame and fortune, but rather the immediate joy of sharing a game and the togetherness that only sport can deliver.

That, and a crazy porcupine called Pachi who they can identify with.

On this day, for a fleeting yet -- one can only hope -- memorable moment, sport was one thing and one thing only.

It was fun.

And a stark reality we, as adults, should never take for granted.
Follow Scott Russell on Twitter @SportsWkndScott and @TheFieldofPlay

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