Since his freshman year at Purdue University in 2012, Grant Hubbard had been encouraged to attend tryouts for one of the college’s mascots, Purdue Pete.
A couple of his fraternity brothers had been Purdue Pete, and they thought Hubbard would enjoy it. He was involved in other leadership roles on campus, but he didn’t think he would have time to fulfill the commitment.
Last spring, however, he decided to give it a shot.
“I wasn’t really doing much with other organizations and decided it was a now-or-never type of decision, and I tried out,” the 22-year-old Seymour native and Purdue senior said.
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Each year, nearly 50 people try out for the role of Purdue Pete. About 10 people make the final cut, and the finalists perform a skit that they create.
Hubbard was fortunate to make it all the way through and for the past year has been one of four students on the West Lafayette campus donning the Purdue Pete gear, including a football or basketball jersey, a boilermaker hammer, an oversize head and a hardhat, at sporting events, campus activities and community events.
The tryouts consist of multiple stations for the preliminary rounds followed by an invite-only interview round. In the preliminary rounds, different aspects, such as improvisational situations, dance and physical fitness, are judged.
“It can be a bit intimidating at first because with no experience, you’re not quite sure what to do or how to act in the tryouts,” Hubbard said. “The judges are mainly composed of Purdue Pete alumni, and they all have been in your shoes and know what makes a good Pete.”
Hubbard was called back to the tryout facility but didn’t know if he had made it or not. To his delight, it was good news.
“It was definitely a surreal feeling,” he said of being selected to portray Purdue Pete. “At the time, you really have no idea what you’re getting yourself into or just the magnitude of the position that you just earned.”
Purdue Pete was introduced in 1940 as an advertising icon for the university’s bookstore, but Pete didn’t get his name until four years later. In 1956, Purdue Pete began cheering for the Boilermakers at sporting events.
Initially, students with tumbling ability were chosen to portray Pete, and the mascot had some padding and the head was made of papier mache.
Now, Pete’s head is made of a carbon fiber material and is crafted in the same aviation technology lab that produced the locomotive body of one of the university’s other mascots, X-tra Special. The school’s official mascot is the Boilermaker Special. Purdue Pete used to have a counterpart, Rowdy, but that program ended in 2007.
After tryouts, Hubbard said he slowly became integrated into the Purdue Pete family and experience.
“Most games and major events are done by veterans who know what to do, and your first events are smaller events in which you are accompanied by a veteran to assist you and help you out,” he said. “Throughout the rest of the semester, you become more and more comfortable in the role. By fall semester, you can do events by yourself.”
Hubbard’s first event as Purdue Pete was a benefit 5K for a campus organization.
“It was a great experience, to say the least, as it was the first time I got to represent Purdue University on a level I had never before,” he said.
Other events have ranged from football and basketball games to organization callouts to weddings and funerals.
“At events, Pete’s job is to just make people’s day and make their experience better, ranging from taking pictures with fans to playing jokes on whoever is around,” Hubbard said. “It’s exciting any time I’m able to get to go represent Pete.”
So far, Hubbard said his most memorable event was traveling to Marshall University in West Virginia for the football team’s season-opener Sept. 6.
“It really hit me that I was getting flown to West Virginia to go represent Pete and Purdue University and how much of a fortunate and awesome opportunity I was experiencing,” he said.
Purdue Pete also is involved in the national mascot competition, which is conducted each year in January at Disney World. Mascot programs around the country submit videos of clips from the previous year, and the top 10 are chosen to perform a skit at Disney.
“This year was the first year in quite some time that Pete submitted a video and he received 15th place, a good finish, but not quite enough to make it to Disney World,” Hubbard said. “As a program, we’re already working on next year’s submission and ways to enhance Pete’s video.”
This time of year, Purdue Pete stays busy with men’s and women’s basketball games. Hubbard said it has been exciting because both teams have been ranked throughout the season.
“Being a part of the Pete program, I’ve gotten to interact and talk to a lot of the players on the team,” he said. “Seeing them continue to put in the work and stay humble with all of the hype they have gained is awesome.”
The spring semester will be a slower schedule, but Hubbard said Purdue Pete will appear at some baseball and softball games and other activities on campus.
Out in the community, Purdue Pete appears at charitable events and promotes a drug-free environment at schools.
“One particular event that comes to mind was when Pete went to a retirement home this past fall,” Hubbard said. “Numerous alumni were so excited to see Pete and told many stories of their days at Purdue and how Pete looked different now than he did when they were on campus.”
Being a mascot takes a combination of pride, confidence and creativity, Hubbard said.
“Pride in your university or whatever you’re representing, confidence in what you’re doing when at events and creativity in thinking outside the box to make people laugh and enhance their experience wherever they are,” he said.
To him, the best part about being the mascot is representing the university on a big stage.
“Although the Boilermaker Special is the official mascot of the university, Pete doesn’t fall far behind in terms of being an icon for the school,” he said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience to be able to go and display the pride and joy you have for your university through Pete.”
Hubbard plans to graduate from Purdue in December with a degree in mechanical engineering technology. Looking back, he said he is glad he chose to attend Purdue Pete tryouts.
“I want to continue to be a part of the Pete program for so many reasons, but one is the family that the program has,” he said. “Alumni come back for games and are always supportive of us. The current guys hang out, and we always clown around and play jokes on each other. It is really a family atmosphere.”
Hubbard said it’s important to be involved while in college.
“Many high school students are involved with sports or other organizations that fill their time but are afraid to branch out and do something on their own once they get to college,” he said.
“Everyone has that fear when they get to college, and I would encourage students to embrace it and find something they enjoy doing,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be what everyone else is doing. Be a part of a group that interests you because at the end of the day, that is what matters.”
For information about the history of Purdue Pete, visit engineering.purdue.edu/ECN/Support/KB/Docs/PurduePeteHistory.
Name: Grant Hubbard
Residence: West Lafayette
Education: Seymour High School (2012); currently a senior at Purdue University studying mechanical engineering technology
Organizations: Boiler Gold Rush, Phi Kappa Psi fraternity
Family: Parents, Jerrell and Karla Hubbard; sisters, Morgan and Kelsey Hubbard