RAPID CITY, S.D. – Cody Hall got a bit more than he bargained for when a new minor professional hockey team came to his hometown.
Hall, 31, was planning to buy season tickets for the Rapid City Rush, a South Dakota-based expansion franchise in the Central Hockey League.
But then, after reading in his local newspaper that the squad was looking to hire a mascot, Hall, at the urging of some friends, auditioned and got the job.
“My friends were telling me, ‘You’ve got a real good personality and you’d be perfect for this,’” Hall said.
For his new position, Hall dons a donkey suit and is known simply as “Nugget.”
Besides receiving $100 a game to perform at each Rush home contest, Hall had appeared at more than 30 other events in the community by early February. These events range from children’s birthday parties to school visits to corporate gigs.
Hall, who coordinates his own schedule for special appearances, has charged between $100 and $500 for extra events.
“The whole community is loving it,” said Hall, who has maintained his day job of designing and finishing wood doors. “The hockey team is a big ticket item right now.”
The Rush is averaging about 4,000 fans for its home matches.
“I didn’t know the mascot would be such a popular thing. During our home games it actually makes some of the players jealous because I get more pictures taken with people than they do.”
Hall, however, has been welcomed into the Rush family. He gets into his Nugget costume in the club’s dressing room.
“I’m right in there with them, I get to see them as a player and as a human being. And they see me as a human as well.”
Hall, who is Sioux, said because of his new job he has also managed to connect with various other mascots who work for franchises in the National Hockey League, National Basketball Association and the National Football League.
Hall said he is frequently exchanging e-mails and talking on the phone with other mascots.
“It’s really crazy. I’ll get calls from guys all over the U.S. And they’ve really helped me out a great deal. They’ve told me what to do with some of my promotions and how to interact with people.”
Hall said he has yet to come across any other Native who works as a mascot for a professional sports franchise.
“I think this is kind of like a groundbreaking thing, especially being Indian,” he said. “We’re just two steps below the NHL.”
And it might not be long before Hall is working for an NHL club. He said the Minnesota Wild has expressed some interest in hiring him to be their mascot.
But before weighing the pros and cons of moving to Minnesota, Hall is keen to complete his responsibilities this season in Rapid City.
Hall, who is also a graphic artist, previously lived in Minneapolis for three years.
Rush general manager Jason Rent was looking for a personable individual to hire as the team mascot. He hired Hall on the spot because he was impressed with his demeanor after taking him around the club’s offices dressed up in the Nugget costume.
“A lot of times mascots are quirky,” Rent said. “You have to be a little crazy to put the suit on, sweat in that thing and have people jump all over you. He actually loves what he’s doing and you can tell that through his performances. I look like a genius for hiring him.”
This is actually not the first time Hall has performed as a mascot. His mother was president of a now defunct Native university in North Dakota. And a few years ago Hall filled in as the team mascot at some basketball contests when the regular mascot was unavailable.
As for hockey, Hall said he has been a long-time admirer of the sport. He played hockey from age 10 – 13, but gave up the sport to focus on football and basketball.
“But I’ve always been a hockey fan,” said Hall, who also frequently attended home games for the NHL’s San Jose Sharks when he lived in California.