The Times West Virginian

March 1, 2014

Fairmont’s Michael Garcia again in final four of Mountaineer competition

By Chelsi Baker
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — Michael Garcia wants to be the Mountaineer.

The junior political science major, business minor and Fairmont native has dreamed of wearing the buckskins for years and came close last year when he tried out and made it to the final four candidates.

This year, he has made it to that point again and will compete against the other three hopefuls during a cheer-off during the West Virginia University men’s basketball game today at the Coliseum in Morgantown.

WVU meets TCU at 1:30 p.m.

One will be chosen today as the 2014-15 Mountaineer mascot.

Garcia graduated from Fairmont Senior in 2011 before attending WVU. He played soccer, among other sports, in high school and continues to be passionate about athletics.

“Sports have always been a big part of my life, and sports are a big part of the Mountaineer, too, so it makes sense,” he said.

Garcia’s business minor at WVU led him to Secretary of State Natalie Tennant’s office, where he interned over the summer.

Tennant became the first female Mountaineer mascot in 1990 during her time at WVU.

Tennant is also a Marion County native, and Garcia hopes to follow in her footsteps.

“I would be very proud to wear those buckskins and have people know that I’m from Fairmont,” he said.

Another former Mountaineer, Brock Burwell, also works in Tennant’s office and offered the Mountaineer hopeful some advice.

“He always told me just to be myself and really be impressive with my actions,” Garcia said. “I’ve taken this past year since I was not selected, when I got to the final four and competed in the cheer-off, and I’ve spent that time working to be the best Mountaineer I can be. I’ve dedicated every day to it. This has been a goal for a really long time.”

Garcia is a member of the Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity, where he participates in community service activities in the Morgantown area. He is also in the Honors College and a member of the Alpha Kappa Psi business fraternity. All of these things, he said, are important characteristics of a Mountaineer mascot candidate.

“You see a lot of mascots that have their masks on. They really can’t interact with the fans like the Mountaineer can. I see (current Mountaineer) Jonathan Kimble all the time on campus. It’s so different than being able to put on a costume and take it off and not have that pressure any more,” he said.

“I think I’m used to working behind closed doors. I do a lot of the stuff I do without being recognized, so that would be different. If I can keep doing those same good things and be the Mountaineer, then that’s kind of being an example for people. I think that’s really important. People need a mentor and someone they can look to and see them doing good things, and then maybe go act in different ways because of it.”

Going through the selection process last year gave Garcia insight as to what he could do to add things to his resume and make his application stand out, he said.

The application to be the Mountaineer is extensive. It requires two letters of recommendation and the completion of five short essay questions, and it assesses things like community service, work experience, leadership positions and campus involvement.

Then, candidates go through a cumulative interview process that narrows applicants down to the final four. Then, there is the cheer-off.

The committee in charge of choosing the final four will sit in the crowd today at the Coliseum, and two Mountaineer hopefuls per half will work the crowd on either side of the arena during the game. Then, they switch and interact with the other side. At the end of the game, one will be the winner.

Last year, Garcia felt his chances weren’t great because Kimble, the current Mountaineer, was competing as an incumbent.

“This year, I feel like I have a really good shot if I go out and do my best,” he said. “At the end of the day, that’s all you can do.”

Becoming the Mountaineer would mean representing WVU and the entire state of West Virginia, Garcia said, which is something he’s been working toward.

“I think it would mean everything because I have put such a great amount of work and dedication and energy into trying to achieve this accomplishment, that if I got it, it would be validating all that work, making all those sacrifices I might have made in the past year all worth it,” he said. “Obviously, I would do the same things over again, but having the opportunity to represent this state is something that I hold very dear in my heart.”

Garcia hopes to be able to return to Fairmont and visit the schools that he grew up in as the Mountaineer.

“The first thing I want to do, if I get it, is to come back to Fairmont Senior High School,” he said. “That’s where my roots are. I bled white and blue before I bled gold and blue. In the same way, the elementary schools would be great to visit. My mom’s an elementary school teacher and has been since I was in kindergarten, so I think that would be really cool.”

His Marion County roots aren’t the only ones that matter if he is chosen as the Mountaineer, however. Garcia has been growing a beard since 2012.

“There’s another guy in the competition, Don, who has a really great beard, but I like to keep it more clean cut and more business-like,” he joked. “I don’t want people to see the Mountaineer as this burly guy. I want to see him as a person. Someone relatable. Being blonde, it’s not always the best beard ever, but it’s coming. I’m still young. It’s growing.”

Email Chelsi Baker at cbaker@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @cbakerTWV.