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Did You Know: Who Was ASU's First Performing Sparky Mascot?

Sun Devil
(Photo courtesy of Richard Jacobs Photograph Collection, University Archives, ASU Libraries.)
Dick Jacobs was the first performing Sun Devil from 1951 to 1953. In 1952 female acrobats were added as part of the Sun Devil performance. Performers were known as the Sparkettes.

The mascot has been an iconic symbol for decades, and there’s a story behind how it was brought to life.

Sparky the Sun Devil was created after World War II and was developed into a performing mascot a few years later. Did you know a state legislator once claimed he was the first Sparky until a man came forward and proved his acrobatic skills brought the mascot to life?

“In the fall of 2000, I noticed in the Arizona Republic a statement by the state legislator Gary Richardson that he was the first performing Sun Devil,” said Robert Spindler, head of the Arizona State University Archives and Special Collections Department. “I thought it was interesting that he made the claim, and when I got to work later that morning I received a phone call from a gentleman named Dick Jacobs who said that Richardson’s claim was incorrect.”

Spindler was aware the legislator wore a Sparky costume when he was boy during a football game in the late 1950s, but wasn’t sure the lawmaker was the first performing Sun Devil. So he invited Jacobs to the campus to show his evidence.  Spindler remembers when the elderly man walked in with a box. It held several items including a scrapbook. The photos highlighted his time as a student from 1951 to 1953, when the school was Arizona State College. At the time, Jacobs was also a competitive gymnast.

“Well, we look at vintage photography all the time in our work here, and it was really clear that this scrapbook, this photo album, had been assembled in the 1950s," said Spindler.

Scanning his computer, Spindler showed the black and white photos.

“There’s the Sun Devil Dick Jacobs up at the top of the goal post in what’s clearly Goodwin Stadium," he said.

Jacobs is dressed in a thin, satin-like costume with horns and a tail. His face is exposed. Many of the photos are of him doing acrobatic stunts. Other interesting photos show Sparky had partners.

“The Sparkettes, as they were known, started, I believe in 1952 based on the date on the photographs," Spindler said.

Spindler said proof shows Jacobs was likely the first Sparky on the field.  He hasn’t found any data of someone taking over for Jacobs after he finished school, but there is that costume former state legislator Gary Richardson wore as a boy in 1958.

“Richardson's Sparky costume, which is on display at the Tempe History Museum, you’ll see he was very short. And so, it’s very likely he could have legitimate claim to be the youngest performing Sun Devil," said Spindler.

The Sparky costume has changed over the years, including adding a mask. Spindler said ASU keeps the identity of those people who wear the mascot costume secret. So much so, that he’s only identified about half-a-dozen people who have worn Sparky through the year 2000.

“I fell in love with broadcasting when I was 14,” said KJZZ Reporter Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez.