In his second year as West Virginia University’s Mountaineer, Michael Garcia, of Fairmont, has done his fair share of visits to schools around the state. Last week, he visited the schools of Pocahontas County and spoke to the students about having pride in themselves and their state.
“I was at [Marlinton] middle school first, and talked to them about having high expectations for themselves and setting good goals, and valuing yourself a lot,” Garcia said.
When he visits schools, Garcia doesn’t have a set plan with a memorized speech or notes. He likes to get the feel of the school atmosphere and takes it from there. At Marlinton Elementary School and Green Bank Elementary-Middle School, he tried something new to give the students an idea of what it takes to become the Mountaineer.
“I went in there and we had a little mini-version of a Mountaineer tryout,” Garcia said. “I picked a random assortment of kids, so that was the application process. I had them all give me their loudest yell as I pointed to them, and that was the interview, and then finally, the last four got to be my cheer-off contestants, like we usually have at the second to the last basketball game of the season.
“They got to get their side of the crowd as loud as they could and everyone voted,” he continued. “Then we had our own little Mountaineer. I usually just go with the flow. I have never done that before, but it turned out really well.”
At all the schools, Garcia stressed the importance of setting high standards and doing the best they can in school.
As someone who has to juggle college courses and his job as the Mountaineer, Garcia knows the importance of staying focused.
“I just love WVU so much and there’s no other school – undergrad-wise – that I wanted to go to,” he said. “I always wanted to be a bigger part of it, and I think part of me wanted to get a little, or a lot, out of my comfort zone. This is probably the best way of me doing that.”
Garcia uses past experiences of perseverance to show students that it is important to never give up and to strive for greatness.
“I tried out when I was a sophomore and didn’t get it,” he said. “As a junior I tried out and got it, and I think that’s kind of a perseverance story for myself, and I kind of share that with kids. I love kids. I love being around them and trying to give them a little extra motivation to do their best.”
In his two years as the Mountaineer, Garcia has done a lot of interesting and unique things, including appearing on the County Music Awards show and appearing in West Virginia native Brad Paisley’s music video for “Country Nation.”
“I was recently at the CMA awards,” Garcia said. “I usually try to start off with a joke or something, but today, I’m going to tell them a little story about meeting someone there, and hopefully they get a kick out of it.”
The person he met was Justin Timberlake, who mistakenly thought he was the Volunteer. Garcia politely corrected him and kept his cool while inside he was starstruck.
As for his time in the “Country Nation” video, Garcia said it was a blast getting to know the other mascots.
“I got to hang out with all of the other mascots when they were out of suit and that was kind of cool in itself,” he said.
Garcia was the only mascot in the video whose face was visible – the others have costumes that include heads – so he had a little advantage. The bigger advantage was that he and Paisley are both from West Virginia.
“They were all jealous,” he said, laughing. “They were like, ‘wherever Michael goes, I’m going, too.’”
Although it is amazing to have these once-in-a-lifetime appearances, Garcia said the best part about being the Mountaineer is representing the state and its people. When people ask him for advice on how to become the Mountaineer, he reminds them that the Mountaineer is much more than a mascot.
“If they want to try out to be the Mountaineer, I would say do it for the right reasons,” he said. “Make it about the university, not yourself. That’s the biggest thing I’d ever tell anybody. Wearing the buckskins and being in the vision of the Mountaineer is not for one second about you. Even though, it’s kind of a Catch-22 because your face is everywhere and people can recognize you in and out of the buckskins, but it’s not about you, ever.
“It’s about representing the one point eight million people in this state and trying to represent them even though it’s impossible to,” he continued. “There are so many amazing people that no one person could ever do it. At least, you get to be an ambassador for the state.”
The Mountaineer’s visit to the county was coordinated by Community Connections.
Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org