University mascot criticized for sideline antics
HONOLULU, Hawaii (AP) -- The University of Hawaii's sports opponents and even school officials think the university's Polynesian warrior mascot has gotten too, well, warlike.
Vili the Warrior, played by Vili Fehoko, is being criticized for overly boisterous antics including taunting opposing players and throwing a bracelet at a cheerleader.
In a November football game against the University of Alabama, the 6-foot-tall, 290-pound Vili tossed and made a wrestling-style jump on the school's mascot, an elephant called Big Al played by a student weighing a not-so-big 165 pounds.
"I think Vili took it too far," said Debbie Greenwell, coordinator of Alabama's cheerleading squad. "He really could have hurt our mascot."
Fehoko, a former Polynesian Cultural Center dancer who has played the school's drum-pounding mascot for four seasons, brushes off the complaints. He said he and Big Al had discussed the wrestling stunt ahead of time, although Greenwell disputes that.
"If you understand sports, people understand that," said Fehoko, 38. "That's part of the game. It's all about entertainment. I'm not going to change what I do."
Fehoko certainly has his fans. He's often spotlighted during game telecasts, has appeared in newspaper and television ads and is sought for pictures with fans, opposing coaches and cheerleaders -- even referees.
But Vili's antics have university officials saying they may change the mascot program. He most recently was criticized after the Warriors' triple-overtime victory over the University of Houston in the December 25 Hawaii Bowl, which ended in on-field brawl marked by Vili's sideline taunting.
"We hear our fans loud and clear," said Tom Sadler, associate athletics director at the university. "We don't condone that type of behavior. We're going to address it."
Asked whether a revamped mascot program would include Fehoko, Sadler said, "We're keeping all our options open."
Most university mascots are students, but Fehoko is paid $400 for each athletic event he performs at, according to his contract.
Sadler said he met with Fehoko to set general behavior guidelines after the incident with the bracelet, which was captured on home video and shown on a local newscast. Sadler said several dozen people have lodged complaints with the school.
But, Kevin Eiker, a fan of the school's football team, is still a fan of Vili.
"He keeps everyone motivated. He keeps their spirits up," Eiker said.
Seen at http://www.cnn.com/2004/US/01/11/offbeat.hawaii.mascot.ap/index.html
Cross-posted at oiwi the community about Hawaiians and Hawaiian issues