Kenneth Pressley, junior and health and wellness promotion student, and Marissa Craver, senior and accounting student, are both students by day and the leaders of cheer for UNC Asheville’s athletes at night.
Pressley moonlights as Rocky the Bulldog mascot while his girlfriend, Craver, cheers on the sidelines for UNCA’s basketball games.
What drew Pressley into being the mascot for UNCA was his time as a mascot for both his high school and a children’s hospital during high school.
“I was the mascot for my high school, North Buncombe, my junior and senior years,” Pressley said. “That kind of got me into mascoting and I also helped out at the Jeff Gordon Children’s Hospital where I was the mascot for them, and that got me interested in this. There was an open invitation for the spot by Campus Recreation. Because it was down to me and another guy, it was kind of a gimme at that point.”
Hugo, the Charlotte Hornets mascot, provided lessons for Pressley on becoming a mascot when the Hornets came to UNCA for camp in 2014, Pressley said.
“When I talked to Hugo when the Charlotte Hornets came here for camp, I learned that this would be extremely fun as long as I remained professional about it,” Pressley said. “I realized that making it there would be like making it to the NBA. It would take 15 to 20 years of practice as well as recommendations and so forth.”
Pressley mentioned another inspirational mascot, the Phanatic, who met with him at camp in December. The Phanatic is the mascot for the Philadelphia Phillies.
“I would say that baseball has the best mascots, due to them making a personal connection with the Phanatic,” Pressley said. “I met the guy who was behind the Phanatic and just all the things that he was able to do and everything, and being able to make a personal connection with him had its perks.”
Besides parading as Rocky the Bulldog at basketball games, Pressley said he is a part of several extracurricular activities outside of school.
“I’ve done a lot of intramural sports like flag football and basketball,” Pressley said. “I even helped start the battleship program the intramurals were going with and that was really cool. I’ve been on many ski shuttles up to Cataloochee and have worked with the biometrics lab, and we’ve done biometrics testing in the community, and I’ll have an internship with them this summer. I’ve kind of been all over the place.”
Pressley said he sees himself working in the biometrics feedback field after graduating from UNCA.
According to Mike Gore, UNCA’s former athletics communications director, Pressley amazes him when Rocky dances around the court for the fans and players.
“He’s one of the best this university has seen, personally,” Gore said. “He really knows how to assemble the school and get the crowd going. He’s very memorable.”
Craver, Pressley’s girlfriend and cheerleader for UNCA for three years, dances to fire up the crowds at the basketball games.
“I’ve been dancing since I could walk,” Craver said. “I was in dance class for years, and I’ve always loved cheerleading, so as soon as I had the opportunity in seventh grade I joined the cheerleading team and I’ve been cheerleading for sports and competitively from seventh grade on.”
Cheerleading for various sports, including football and basketball, is part of Craver’s love for performing.
“I love the atmosphere and I love performing and being a performer,” Craver said. “I love dancing for the crowds and giving them something to look at as well as being there for the basketball players. I know that they do better when there’s a bigger crowd and more crowd involvement, and I love being a part of that and doing what I can to contribute.”
Craver said she wanted to thank a few individuals for inspiring her to continue on as a cheerleader, including her parents and her boyfriend.
“I want to thank my parents because cheerleading is expensive, especially competitively,” Craver said. “He (Pressley) even puts up with me complaining about all of my practices, games and stress.”
Pressley said that he has attended some of Craver’s practices and, as a result, gained a respect for what his girlfriend accomplishes on the court.
“Being there with her at the practices and games has kind of given me a respect for what she does,” Pressley said. “I’ve never been a cheerleader until coming here, and last year I did a few stunts with her outside of the suit as well as inside the suit. Seeing them do what they do has given me respect for their team after seeing how much they put into their practices and games.”
Stephanie Watkins-Cruz, senior and cheerleader for UNCA, commented on Craver’s time as a cheerleader, saying that she puts in a lot of time and dedication to the team. Watkins-Cruz has been a cheerleader for four years and captained the squad for two.
“Marissa is one of the most dedicated teammates I’ve ever had,” Watkins-Cruz said. “She put a lot of energy into the team during the years she was on it. She’s also extremely smart. I think that as cheerleaders, people don’t even realize that we’re students and a lot of us, like Marissa, have extremely difficult majors and work really hard academically.”
When asked who has more school spirit, Craver said both she and Pressley take on the court in a team effort as cheerleader and mascot.
“If it were really a competition, I would go with me since I’ve been here longer,” Craver said, jokingly. “Kidding aside, it’s not really a competition and we both work together. The more energetic Rocky is, the more energetic the cheerleaders are, I feel.”
According to Craver, she will be getting her license to be a certified public accountant after college but plans to stay involved with cheerleading somehow.
School spirit at UNCA, according to Pressley, is not where it needs to be from a sports perspective.
“If you go to some of the big schools like Chapel Hill, Duke or Coastal Carolina, they can eat you alive if you don’t show enough school spirit,” Pressley said. “Schools like those that come in can give you a sense of being in a horror film. Despite only having about 3,000 seats in the stadium, we have enough students and community members here that the stadium could be packed out. That’s only happened once and it was against Carolina, but that’s because it’s Carolina. It needs to feel like a rock concert and I know the building could handle that.”
According to Janet Cone, athletics director for UNCA, attendance for athletic events increased this year, especially for soccer and basketball games.
“That’s one of the things the athletic administrators wanted this year was for more fans to come out to cheer for our Bulldogs,” Cone said. “I think that people need to realize that these events, as well as Rocky and the spirit team, give students a chance to connect and be a part of the experience. I call it a tradition rather than school spirit.”
Cone mentioned that many students at UNCA cannot always make it to every athletic event the university puts on due to off-campus living, jobs and other schedule conflicts.
“I don’t think it’s so much that students are uninterested with our events,” Cone said. “We’re certainly not where we want to be but, at the same time, we’ve come so far in the 11 years that I’ve been here, especially with the increase of on-campus students. It’s not that they don’t care. We have all sorts of students who want to go to one of our events but can’t because they have a job, an internship, undergraduate research or a class to go to and they can’t get out to see a game.”
Pressley said the fans at athletic events need to be excited enough to scare the other teams that come to play at Kimmel Arena. School spirit is a crucial part of being at the university and without it, visiting teams would take over the school at sporting events.
“If you don’t have school spirit, other players and other teams are going to come into your place, into your stadium and they’re going to run all over on top of you because they might as well be playing in a neutral place,” Pressley said. “Our fans need to overpower them and make them feel as if they’re coming into a war zone when they’re coming into our arena and that, unfortunately, has not been the case. They need to feel like they are going to be in fear of our students when they step out on our court.”
According to Craver, school spirit is an important part of attending the games in order to keep the events fun for the fans and players.
“I think the point of sports, in general, is to have fun and if you don’t have school spirit, then why are you going to the game?” Craver said. “The more school spirit you have, the more excited you’re going to be and the more fun you’re going to have and, in turn, the players are going to have because the crowd is getting into it. It gives you something to be proud of.”