The citizen by daylight and superhero by night dichotomy is a common theme in fiction, but it was Nicole Niemiec’s actual life for three years at MSU.
“I was like Bruce Wayne. I would come home and my roommates knew a lot of alumni Spartys and were telling me how cool they were,” said Niemiec. “I just said, ‘Yep, they’re crazy.’” Spartys take a vow of secrecy and outside of people from athletics, none of her classmates knew the double life Niemiec led in the spotlight.
Niemiec is the second woman Sparty. Erin Bormes was the first, donning the largerthan-life personality during the 1997 to 1998 season.
“I am just a busy person naturally. So I’d always say I had another thing to do and they’d just believe me,” Niemiec said.
Before becoming Sparty, Niemiec only wore a mascot costume once in high school, she said.
However, she got involved in the Sparty Security Program that follows Sparty around, helps him get ready and drives the golf cart. Once she saw what being Sparty looked like, she tried out.
“I didn’t think I would be the body type or right fit for Sparty, but I made it my own and absolutely loved it.”
Participating in high school theater helped form Niemiec’s backbone for becoming Sparty.
“It was fun and challenging to audition for the male parts,” Niemiec said. “I’m comfortable being masculine, but when I started it was so funny when girls start flirting with you as Sparty. There are so many instances when I was just laughing on the inside.”
A common challenge was to pick up women for photos, she added. “I really had to make sure I was strong enough to hold people up.”
Mascotting is demanding work, Niemiec said. There are physical challenges like the heat and weight of the suit, but for every hour of performing, there was usually three hours of extra work, she said.
Also, it isn’t all only suit work. “I did a lot of social media, analytics and concept creation. A lot of work goes into that and making props and costumes.”
Her weekends were almost always booked. “There are some crazy day trips you have to make and crazy people you meet that put you in uncomfortable situations. But the hard parts were the weekend, then classes: A lot of time is spent traveling around Michigan then it’s back to the grind in East Lansing.”
Still, Niemiec said she wouldn’t trade those years for the world.
“I am so nostalgic. Once I got the gig, I was always thinking of the last event and thought I would be crying in a ball,” Niemiec said.
The last day before graduation, Niemiec donned the Sparty costume one last time.
“I had my family come all the way up to see it, and I started telling people close to me who didn’t know.”
It was a Spartan versus Lugnuts game, and Niemiec’s Sparty didn’t retire without a fight.
“Sometimes when people get to the end, they want to take a break and that wasn’t me at all. I was tired of doing events, but I knew I was never going to be able to be tired of doing events again,” she said.
“It took them two and a half hours to get me out, they had to drag me. I took everything for what it was and then it was time to leave.”
Leaving the double life behind, Sparty’s legacy followed her to her position as a district manager in training at GM in Detroit.
“They interviewed me and said they have a Sparty in the office. At the time, I thought it was just an associative word for someone from MSU,” she said.
“Come to find out, the regional director was a Sparty too, and now we share funny stories about sweating.”