Cocky Comes Home to Roost

Former Cocky, Jamie Ballentine, left, with his alter ego, the current Cocky.

Like any superhero, Blythewood’s Jamie Ballentine knows how to juggle a secret alter ego and change clothes in a phone booth. As an undergrad at the University of South Carolina, Ballentine proudly cavorted as Cocky, the university’s beloved mascot, at sports and other events on campus and around the state. Though his tenure as Cocky was filled with highlights – including winning the national Mascot of the Year title in 2003 – Ballentine had to keep it all under his hat — uh, comb.

“Cocky’s identity is traditionally kept secret,” Ballentine said, “because he’s essentially the face of the university. There’s kind of a magic about believing that Cocky is real – it’s an idea that young fans really connect with and all fans want to believe in. Everyone wants their picture made with Cocky.”

Ballentine said keeping that secret for four years, though, was sometimes difficult.

“When I was in costume, people were always asking me, ‘Where are you from?’ ‘Are you a junior, senior or what?’ ‘who ARE you?’ My handler’s answer to all these questions was always, ‘He’s Cocky!’

“Out of costume, I’d tell people I was a trainer for the cheerleading squad,” he said. “But then I’d disappear for the whole game, and the next time I appeared, I’d be carrying this big bag and be all sweaty. As I travelled with the USC band and they got to know me, I think they knew and word spread among them. But they kept the secret.”

Ballentine discovered his talent for mascoting in high school, where he first drew crowds as the Ridge View mascot, Blazer, the purple horse.

“I had a great time during the games as Blazer,” Ballentine remembers, “and I was even invited to events like the Sparkleberry Fair and the ‘Mascots on Ice’ game hosted by Columbia’s Inferno hockey team.”

He enjoyed his mascot role so much that he decided to audition for Cocky while still in high school. But Ballentine thought he didn’t stand a chance.

“I had to perform a three-minute skit,” he said, explaining the audition process, “then a round of improv and an interview. I auditioned right after the previous year’s alternate Cocky, who had all these props and costumes, and had everyone laughing. I, on the other hand, was just standing there, in the backup Cocky outfit, holding a little Ghostbusters Stay-puft marshmallow man. He was my only prop. So I just decided I might as well put my heart and passion into this and have fun, and at least be Cocky for a day.”

The skit he’d prepared was based on his lifelong obsession with Ghostbusters, a movie that, according to Ballentine family lore, he quoted from memory before he was old enough to read.

“Although I’d performed as Blazer,  I wasn’t sure what to do for my skit. So I just went with what I knew, and that was Ghostbusters. I propped Stay-puft up as a visual, so they could see who I was being, and then I acted him out – as though he were attacking Williams-Brice Stadium. It was all pantomime.” But Ballentine added with a grin, “if  Stay-puft hadn’t been up there for some context, you’d have needed a pretty good imagination to figure out what I was doing!”

The audition committee wanted someone who could bring an inanimate costume to life, and they found that in Ballentine. After an unprecedented four years of portraying Cocky, Ballentine graduated with a degree in Advertising and Public Relations in 2006.

After college, he pursued professional mascot jobs around the country, but eventually heeded a call to the ministry and returned to Blythewood, where he is now the youth pastor at Pine View Baptist Church.

“My heart and life are so intertwined with Pine View,” he said. “It’s the church where I grew up, and it’s amazing that I’m now getting to serve there.”

His wife Brittany is also from Blythewood, and they are expecting their first child in December.

Looking back, Ballentine said the more than 350 appearances as Cocky during an academic year was hard work.

“But it was worth every drop of sweat,” he said. “I loved it! When I watch the USC games now, I feel a little emotional when I see Cocky come out. I’m like – wow, that was me!

“It was amazing to have 80,000 people screaming for me, and I hadn’t even made a touchdown,” Ballentine said, laughing. “It was an incredible experience,” he reminisced thoughtfully, “a chance of a lifetime. I loved being Cocky.”

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