Ellie Bergstrom– Guest Writer
Over this year’s Defender Days, Dordt University students, alumni, and families packed itno the DeWitt Gymnasium’s bleachers for Late Night with the Defenders. The university’s basketball, cheer, and dance teams put on a showcase of games and competitions, including a dunk contest. Mel Knobloch, head dance and cheer coach, announced each member of her teams as they waved to the crowd. The night was more than just a pep rally, though.
“We have one more addition to our Spirit Squad that we would like to introduce to Defender Nation,” Knobloch said. “Defender Nation, please put your hands together and welcome,” she paused. “… Dash the Defender!”
The mascot—a grey knight with a bright yellow plume rising from the top of his helmet—ran through the cheer tunnel and into the middle of the gym. Dash the Defender raised his foam sword to the audience’s applause and pumped his foam fists in the air. He then got right to work, tossing rolled up t-shirts into the crowd.
The university had posted several hints on social media about the mascot, but for most of Defender Nation, Dash came as a surprise.
“Originally, we had the mascot set up and were hoping to have Dash last year,” Knobloch said. “But due to COVID-19 we decided it would be best to hold off until games and crowds were back to more normal attendance.”
The university’s new cheer team, the dance team, and Dash the Defender, comprise what is referred to as the Spirit Squad. Dordt University added a mascot to the spirit squad with the intent to engage the fans in the stands, according to Knobloch.
“Creating that overall gameday environment,” Knobloch said, is the goal.
“Crowd involvement is a big deal during football games,” said junior linebacker Tanner Millikan. “We feed off the crowd’s energy.”
Millikan attended Late Night with the Defenders and thought the event was a hit. He is looking forward to seeing Dash “add more excitement to the atmosphere” on gamedays.
After the football team’s victory against Dakota Wesleyan over Defender Days, students and spectators, especially children, approached Dash the Defender for pictures with the mascot.
Other Dordt students have mixed opinions. Jess Brander, a sophomore, attended the football game and observed Dash’s interactions.
“There is definitely room for improvement, but I appreciate that they are putting the effort in. It’s about time we had a mascot,” Brander said, “But I would like him to have more of a personality.”
Dash the Defender will join the spirit squad in some of their routines, and otherwise hang around at games and events, interacting with fans.
The identity of the person wearing the suit, however, is a mystery.
“That’s part of the fun,” Mel Knobloch said; “we want people to wonder…who’s in the suit?”
The concealment of Dash’s identify is done to fashion the mascot into a timeless symbol of the Defender spirit that can appeal to all ages, according to Knobloch.
“It’s always been, for the longest time, ‘What’s a Defender?’” Brander said “Now we have a physical representation.”