Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz gets a hug from Muddy the Mud Hen in his office at One Government Center on Friday. The mayor performed as Muddy during 1991.
Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz had many decisions to make when he was running for office last year, and one about his past in particular wasn’t a common issue for politicians.
As an 18-year-old intern with the Toledo Mud Hens in 1991, Mr. Kapszukiewicz was pressed into duty as the Muddy the Mud Hen, mascot for the organization. He debated whether to make his experience public or move past it.
“At some point, it just clicked and I said, ‘Aww, to heck with it. Let’s just go with it,’” Mr. Kapszukiewicz said. “It’s a unique little bit of my biography, but I think it speaks to a kind of pride that is unique to Toledo.”
While Mr. Kapszukiewicz’s campaign shared the image on social media last year, it gained new traction last week when the Mud Hens tweeted out the picture.
“The Mud Hens are uniquely Toledo,” Mr. Kapszukiewicz said.
“Toledo’s story is a story of a town and people who have been picked on and looked down upon — old songs were made about it, even The Daily Show still makes jokes about it — but there’s something in the DNA of a Toledoan where we always get pushed down, but we get back up, we brush ourselves off, and we always come back to work the next day. In that spirit, I think it was a good story. Yeah, I was the Mud Hen. You can’t get more Toledoan than that. I’ve embraced it.”
Tyler Clark, special event and game day presentation coordinator with the Mud Hens, has also performed as Muddy before taking his job in the front office. The Mud Hens had heard about Mr. Kapszukiewicz’s Muddy experience through previous interviews, so they tracked down a photo from that time period and had its legitimacy verified by the mayor.
“It was very cool to hear,” Mr. Clark said. “You go from being the unofficial face of Toledo as Muddy the Mud Hen — through the TV show M*A*S*H, the Mud Hens brand is recognizable — and now 20 years down the road as the mayor, he is the face of Toledo. It’s very neat.”
During his internship between his freshman and sophomore years of college, Mr. Kapszukiewicz was focused on sports journalism, so most of the internship was focused on game day experience, working with statistics, and making sure media members had what they needed during the game.
At some point during the summer, Muddy the Mud Hen needed to step aside because of a family emergency, leaving the organization searching for a quick replacement. And in stepped Mr. Kapszukiewicz, who had previous mascot experience after spending a few weeks the previous summer performing at Disney World as the pig who built the stick house that the Big Bad Wolf blows down.
“Even though that was only for a few weeks, I was, needless to say, the only person with stuffed animal experience and experience being a mascot and an oversized grown-up animal,” Mr. Kapszukiewicz said.
As a student at St. Francis High School, he was in theater and musical productions. For him, “getting up on stage and acting and dancing around was not too much out of character for me in those days.”
Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz interacts with Muddy the Mud Hen in his office at One Government Center on Friday.
Mr. Clark said some of the performers have a similar background to the mayor’s theater experience while some are former athletes. The things that bind them all are high energy, outgoing personalities.
“People being in front of crowds, people comfortable entertaining large groups and crowds,” Mr. Clark said. “In the middle of the summer with the hot days, the suit can get anywhere from 40 or 50 extra pounds on you as you’re navigating through sold-out ball parks of 11,000 people or sold-out arenas. It is physically taxing or demanding. At the end of the day, what we hear from our performers is they love doing it because of the opportunity to make memories with our fans.”
Mr. Kapszukiewicz estimated he spent 15-20 games as Muddy, and his duties took him away from games; he went to birthday parties and community events, including a parade in Monroe, Mich. According to Mr. Clark, the current mascots make as many as 250 appearances at special events each year.
While most of his memories of his time as Muddy are positive, Mr. Kapszukiewicz also remembers the hordes of children who were set on exposing him as a human and not a true bird. One encounter with a large group stands out in his mind.
“There was a bunch of [kids], and I remember my hands being held back, and [the ring leader] said very clearly, ‘I know how to prove that he’s a human being, let’s kick him in the groin,’” Mr. Kapszukiewicz said. “That was not something I was particularly fired up about happening, but I had a pride in professionalism, I did not want to break character. I didn’t want to say, ‘Hey kid, don’t do that.’ I wanted to stay in character while expressing my displeasure, so I remember quacking very loudly to dissuade him from making such a poor choice.”
Unfortunately for mascots, those types of stories aren’t uncommon. Mr. Clark said current mascots have handlers who walk with them to serve as their eyes and ears and offer some line of protection.
“Our performers have a lot of miles traveled in the suit, and they’re familiar with situations like that,” Mr. Clark said.
Not everyone was surprised to learn of Mr. Kapszukiewicz’s turn as Muddy — current Mud Hens president and CEO Joe Napoli was the assistant general manager of the team at the time. When Mr. Kapszukiewicz won the election, Mr. Napoli sent him a note, reminding him that when he is faced with tough decisions in office, to lean on his time as Muddy to guide him in the right direction.
“It’s kind of neat for me not just that it happened, but that it happened with Joe Napoli,” Mr. Kapszukiewicz said. “There was kind of someone who can vouch and remembers that part.”
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