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April 2006

Suited for the Job
Jamie Ballentine revealed: student, mascot, entertainer

If clothes make the man, there’s a lot to be said about Jamie Ballentine.

Pass him in the Coliseum halls or see him in class and he’s dressed like your typical college kid: blue jeans, tennis shoes, big smile.

But see him at work, and you can’t help but notice he’s dressed for success: designer suit, spiffy footwear, big beak. Big beak?

Unruffled advertising major in one life, cavorting Cocky in another, Jamie Ballentine has suited up as the famous mascot bird for the past four years, and, until recently, has referred to Cocky as his “secret identity.”

“You live two separate lives,” Ballentine said. “You put on that suit and you’re the most famous person in Columbia. Take it off, and that same person that went nuts over you won’t even look at you.”

Being Cocky is a demanding existence for a college student: spending football weekends in a big red suit that can get as hot as 140 degrees and being “on call” for appearances that can come with just an hour’s notice, while trying to keep up with class work and maintain some semblance of a social life. Ballentine says being Cocky doesn’t leave a lot of room for relaxing.

Suiting up is not for those who need personal glory. Cocky won the Capital One Mascot of the Year award in 2003 and was recognized on national television. Ballentine picked up the winner’s ring in private in a small room, and couldn’t tell anybody about it.

Sometimes, he said, it's hard not to shout out, “Hey, that was me. I won!” But that’s just part of being Cocky, anonymous and silent.

Video Feature

Produced by senior broadcast major Taylor Kearns. Choose your connection speed:

High Speed Video

Video requires the latest version of QuickTime for Mac or Windows. Download free player >

Read Jamie's first person account of Cocky's half-court shot and watch video>

But being Cocky is also about getting personal satisfaction from entertaining and bringing joy to others. “You’ve got to be dedicated to it and have a passion for it,” Ballentine said. “If you put your heart and soul into it, people can see it, even through the suit.”

One of Ballentine’s off-campus appearances as Cocky was to the Connie Maxwell Children’s Home, a place for abused and neglected children. The visit was arranged by Miller Murphy, the home’s director of communications and a USC graduate.

“Cocky may be the National Mascot of the year, but he’s Connie Maxwell’s mascot, too. I can’t say enough about what that bird did for us,” Murphy said. He could see the visit brightened the evening for the kids as they bombarded Cocky with hugs at every opportunity. Watch Video>

Although another student will step up to fill the big shoes, Jamie, the student, as Cocky, the bird, will be missed, particularly at the J-School where he’s devoted countless hours of Cocky time, said the school's director, Dr. Shirley Staples Carter.

Carter said the J-School is one of the places where Ballentine's secret identity hasn’t been so secret.

“We’ve had other journalism students who doubled as Cocky, and they were always willing to help. But Jamie has been particularly supportive as Cocky during his four years as a student and University mascot,” Carter said. “He’s appeared at numerous special events for us. We even have an award named for him.”

The Cocky award is given annually to the creators of the best Super Bowl commercial as judged by students in Professor Bonnie Drewniany’s Honors class, “Super Bowl Commercials.”

“I find it quite fitting that Cocky, who happens to be an ad major, presented the first two Cocky awards to major players in the advertising industry.” Drewniany said.

In 2004, Ballentine presented the first Cocky to Staples for the launch of the office supply chain's “That was Easy” campaign. Watch Video>

Although Ballentine has officially retired as USCs No. 1 Cocky and been honored by the University for his service, he dressed out as Cocky for the NIT tournament at Madison Square Garden, where he made his trademark halfcourt shot at halftime. Read Jamie's first person account of the shot and watch video>

Ballentine hopes to replace the Cocky clothes in his closet with those of a pro team mascot after graduation. But he says no matter where he goes or how he’s dressed, he’ll always be Cocky.

Taylor Kearns produced the video feature about Jamie's career as Cocky and contributed to this feature article.

Kearns is from the small town of Hartsville, S.C., and is currently a senior in the USC School of Journalism. After graduation, he hopes to get a job either reporting the news or making feature-length films.