The Busy-ness of Being Smokey

Logan Durham is having a rough — or, maybe that’s “ruff” — year. And he’s enjoying every moment of it. Durham, a sophomore in communications from Cleveland, Tenn., is this year’s lead Smokey, the University of Tennessee’s costumed bluetick hound mascot. He’s assisted by two understudies and a junior Smokey; UT’s Spirit Office typically chooses multiple students to perform as Smokey since the performance schedule is very demanding.

Having served as an understudy last year, Durham started the year knowing what awaited him. “I didn’t know if the busy-ness would change, but I knew the responsibility would increase,” he says. Last year, as understudy, he didn’t have to worry about scheduling. “I just went where I was told.”

This year, Durham meets weekly with Joy Postell, UT mascot director, to work out the Smokey schedule. He helps assign appearances and then follows up with the three other mascots to make sure everybody is where they are supposed to be.

And there are lots of places they’re supposed to be. Football. Basketball. Soccer. Volleyball. Baseball. Softball. Pep rallies. Fund-raisers. Blood drives. Special events. Whew!

“During some times of the year, we can have five appearances per week,” says Durham, who turned 20 in October. For instance, the spring of 2007 was a true whirlwind with the men’s basketball team and the women’s basketball team both in tournament play. Yet, he says, being with the Lady Vols when they won the national championship was a highlight of his Smokey career.

Part of the juggling act, Durham says, is keeping up with classwork when the job takes you on the road.

Despite the hectic schedule, “I love it. It’s just so much fun playing the character Smokey and getting to entertain. You get treated just like an athlete. It’s the emblem of school spirit. That’s as big as it gets — especially at the University of Tennessee.”

The job is financially rewarding, too, since students who serve as Smokey receive scholarships for their efforts.

Although Durham’s close friends know about his life as Smokey, it’s not something he broadcasts. “It’s like Mickey Mouse. You want people to think of him as Mickey Mouse, not some guy in a suit.”

He wants people to see Smokey the way he sees Smokey: “A lady’s man, but a Southern gentleman nonetheless. He really thinks he runs the show and, in some ways he does, but in other ways he’s comic relief.”

Durham’s future plans are still unfolding, although he thinks he might want to go into the ministry. Regardless of where life takes him, Durham says he thinks having Smokey on his resume will be a plus. “I feel like when you drop the mascot name, it gets you a foot in the door anywhere,” he said.

But it’s more than that, says Postell, who saw 10 students audition for the job this year. Each had to choreograph and perform a prepared two-minute skit for judges, with props and music, in the Smokey costume. Their cheering skills and ability to improvise also were tested. Finally, they were interviewed out of costume.

“We’re looking, first and foremost, for someone who is dependable,” Postell says. “Only students who are extremely dependable and reliable will be successful as Smokey.”