Johnathon O’Halloran likes to show his face at as many Woodbridge High School events as possible, but the tuxedo-wearing mascot tried to make himself omnipresent on social media to put himself in position to win the MyCentralJersey.com Snapple Bowl Mascot Challenge.
The winner of the inaugural challenge, which began in May and concluded June 5, will be announced during halftime of the charity all-star football game between recently graduated high school seniors from Middlesex and Union counties at Kean University’s Alumni Stadium on July 16.
Snapple Bowl founder and game director Marcus Borden is still calculating scoring for each of the nine participants.
The mascot who raised the most money (50 percent of scoring), who earned the most votes in MyCentralJersey.com’s online poll (30 percent of scoring) and who promoted his or herself most creatively on social media (20 percent of scoring) will be crowned the champion.
The winner will receive The Debbie Ganz Spirit of the Game Award, named after a dedicated volunteer who has been involved with the Snapple Bowl since its inception.
All proceeds from the game, which has raised more than $485,000 over the past 21 years, benefit Children’s Specialized Hospital in Mountainside and the Edison-based Lakeview School, a program of the New Jersey Institute for Disabilities.
O’Halloran appears to be a frontrunner to win the challenge, which was designed to promote school spirit while heightening awareness of the charity football game.
He raised more than $2,500 for the Snapple Bowl’s beneficiaries through a crowdfunding internet campaign, and promoted himself on social media to place first in online voting.
Using an Uncle Sam-esque Twitter profile picture framed with the words “I WANT YOU TO VOTE” in Woodbridge’s black and red school colors, O’Halloran edged Middlesex High School’s Jenna Lutes, also known as “Boomer the Blue Jay, 8,620 to 8,259 votes.
The nine mascots combined to raise nearly $5,000 and generated more than 21,000 votes in MyCentralJersey.com’s online poll.
In addition, they posted nearly 2,000 pictures and videos of themselves on Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #SnappleBowlMascots while encouraging others to retweet or repost.
The image of “Boomer the Blue Jay” was socialized more than 1,500 times. She could be found all over campus – lifting weights, playing guitar, tutoring classmates, sorting mail in the main office, posing with the cafeteria staff, playing volleyball, working out on the running track and virtually anywhere else.
Michael O’Donnell, who took over as Middlesex High School’s athletics director last year, dusted off the Blue Jay mascot costume, which hadn’t been used in some time, and held an open competition for the position.
“Jenna took it real serious and tried to be original,” O’Donnell said of the recently graduated senior. “She truly was the best one. She kind of answered the call for all the sports teams this year.”
O’Donnell said Lutes attended a “good amount” of athletic events and even went to Carolier Lanes in North Brunswick to support the bowling team in the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament.
“The whole school community got behind her,” O’Donnell said of Lutes’ success in the Snapple Bowl Mascot Challenge. “She’s been tremendous. She has a great personality and has a lot of fun. She can be goofy, but she’s serious. She’s a go-getter. When she puts her name to something, she’s going to go all out.”
Wardlaw-Hartridge’s Julia Linger, also known as “Rambunctious the Ram,” was among the most creative mascot challenge competitors on social media.
— Greg Tufaro (@GregTufaro) May 21, 2015
She posted a photo of herself standing alongside a Dodge Ram pickup truck inside the dealership of Autoland, a Snapple Bowl corporate sponsor, and a picture of herself reading the children’s book “Sheep in a Jeep” while sitting in a rocker.
Linger’s most humorous photo, however, was one of her reclining in a chair with her hands folded behind her head and her feet up on a desk inside Wardlaw-Hartridge Headmaster Andy Webster’s office. The words “just hanging out” in Webster’s office followed by “he doesn’t know I’m here” are juxtaposed to the image of Webster standing behind Linger with his arms folded across his chest, leering at the unwitting ram with disdain.
An actress and singer, Linger won the 2012 Montclair State University Theatre Night Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance as Helen Keller in Wardlaw-Hartridge’s production of The Miracle Worker. A two-time selection to the New Jersey Music Educator’s All-State Choir as a soprano, Linger also played lead roles in Wardlaw-Hartridge’s productions of High School Musical and Little Women.
“She uses a combination of her own theatrical sense and her understanding of sports to interact with the crowds and help make the game experience better for everybody,” Wardlaw-Hartridge Athletics Director Karl Miran said of Linger, a recently graduated senior who also plays softball at the Edison preparatory school.
“She’s got a lot of energy and the same kind of creativity that came through in her tweets is kind of how she approached her whole time as the ram. A lot of us enjoyed what Julia had done to revitalize the mascot piece of school spirit and (supporting her in challenge) was a way of other people maybe paying her back.”
The Woodbridge school-community rallied behind its mascot, known as the Barron and named after a wealthy family that was among the first to settle in the township during the late 17th century. The Barron name was synonymous with philanthropy, a tradition which O’Halloran continued with his support of the Snapple Bowl.
Clad in a black tuxedo with a white shirt, red cummerbund, matching bow tie, black top hat and black walking stick with a gold dollar sign for a handle, O’Halloran stands out in the crowd at Woodbridge high school events.
“Since I’ve been the athletics director, we’ve had multiple kids who would fill the role, but nobody made it their thing,” Woodbridge Athletics Director Joe Ward said of Halloran, who will enter his senior year in September. “Johnathon has made it like his life. He’s taken it to levels that none of us would have ever anticipated or asked him to do. He wants to be there to show his school spirit and support every team and every club. No one will ever match what he has done.”
O’Halloran asked Ward for permission earlier this year to spruce up an aging golf cart so that he could drive it to pep rallies on school grounds. Ward said he expected O’Halloran to perhaps take a can of spray paint to the golf cart and call it a day.
“He took the golf cart and, in back of the school where our custodians store their equipment, went to work,” Ward explained, noting O’Halloran painstakingly painted the cart in the school’s colors. “It looked like he took it to a car detailer and had it professionally done. It looks like a Cadillac. I was grabbing teachers the next morning and saying, “You’ve got to come see this.’ We all just stood there in amazement.”
Ward said O’Halloran attends as many functions, athletic and otherwise, at school as possible, and now that he recently got his driver’s license, will likely trade in his golf cart for a car so that he can show up at more road games as the mascot.
“I would love to see all our student-athletes have the desire and the drive to be the best at what they do like Jonathon wants to be the best that he can as the Barron,” Ward said. “He’s just unbelievably committed to being the Barron.”
Amanda Lombardi, also known as “Heather the Hawk,” joined the mascot challenge late because, as captain of the J.P. Stevens softball team, she was busy playing third base. Lombardi raised the third most money among the mascots and finished fourth in online voting.
Other mascot challenge competitors included East Brunswick’s Ahijay Bonilla as “Bruiser the Bear,” Edison’s Avesto Yusufiy as “Edgar the Eagle,” North Brunswick’s Brian Jones as “The Raider Bird,” Perth Amboy’s Alexander Collado as “The Panther” and Metuchen’s Samantha Streckfuss as “The Bulldog.”
Several of the mascots attended the Snapple Bowl press conference at North Brunswick High School in May and some will accompany the Middlesex County players and cheerleaders to Monday’s Lakeview School visit.
What: MyCentralJersey.com Snapple Bowl XXII, New Jersey’s most successful charity all-star football game
Where: Kean University’s Alumni Stadium, Union
When: 7 p.m. Thursday, July 16
Participants: Recently graduated high school senior players and cheerleaders from Middlesex and Union counties.
About the event
Beneficiaries: All proceeds from the game, which has raised more than $485,000 since its inception, benefit Children’s Specialized Hospital and the Lakeview School, a program of the New Jersey Institute for Disabilities.
Practice venues: Colonia High School (Middlesex County All-Stars) and Union High School (Union County All-Stars).
Key dates: Middlesex County All-Stars visit the Lakeview School in Edison and Union County All-Stars visit Children’s Specialized Hospital in Mountainside on July 13; Snapple Bowl banquet at Pines Manor restaurant in Edison July 15.
Tickets: Can be purchased at the gate for $10.
Previewing the game: Leading up to Snapple Bowl XXII, the Home News Tribune, Courier News and MyCentralJersey.com will feature at least one story daily, as well as videos.
Game coverage: Look for a game story, a notebook, a Middlesex County sidebar, a Union County sidebar, an A1 story, a photo gallery and video highlights from Snapple Bowl XXII in the Home News Tribune, Courier News and at MyCentralJersey.com.
Social media: Follow us via Twitter @MyCJ_Sports and @SnappleBowl for updates and to interact with reporters and Snapple Bowl XXII game director Marcus Borden.
MyCentralJersey.com Snapple Bowl XXII official web site: Can be found at https://worknotes.com/NJ/SouthRiver/SnappleBowl/