by Con Chapman
SAN DORITO, California. Like many college presidents, Norman Dorn of San Dorito State wouldn’t mind the publicity that comes with a winning sports program. “You look at what Doug Flutie did for Boston College,” he says, referring to the upsurge that school enjoyed after a Hail Mary pass beat Miami on the final play of a nationally televised game. “I’d like to have some of that mojo working for us when a kid is about to choose Stanford.”
For now, Dorn’s recruiting weaponry is limited to his men’s basketball team, but the former marketing specialist isn’t letting that hold him back. “A lot of kids in our selectivity range will choose a school because of its mascot. That’s what Chipper is all about.”
“Chipper” is a male Komodo dragon, the largest lizard in the world and a deadly carnivore that stalks its prey with a stealthy approach and a sudden, fatal charge. “It’s a great teaching tool for our business majors,” Dorn says. “It’s kill or be killed once you graduate.”
Chipper is supervised during San Dorito State games by a heavily-muscled male cheerleader, who restrains the ten-foot, 300-pound monster. “Chipper’s a big dude,” says Tyler Lawrence. “He can smell another team’s mascot when they stop at Arby’s on the edge of town.”
Tonight the San Dorito Fighting Taco Chips take on the Hiram College Terriers in the semifinal round of a preseason tournament. The game will be broadcast on ESPN13, an occasion that Dorn hopes will sway wavering high school seniors. As the contingent from Hiram enters the gym, Chipper’s eyes swing towards the other end of the floor as he smells “Rhett”, the school’s terrier mascot. “Whoa, Chip,” Lawrence says as he pulls the leash taut. “Easy boy.”
The San Dorito players emerge from their dressing room to scattered cheers from the crowd that Dorn says will reach one hundred by tip-off time. “This isn’t Duke, but we’re getting there,” he says a bit optimistically. The team goes through a series of flashy half-court drills, with each team member stopping to pat Chipper on the head for good luck.
Hiram’s players wander onto the court, groggy from the cross-country travel common for pre-season tournaments. Rhett, a black and white male, is clearly the most energetic of the group as he strains at his leash when he smells hot dogs cooking.
Chipper slinks forward, his handler drops the leash, and the giant lizard reverts to the law of the jungle, skittering across the floor and grabbing the small dog in his jaws, consuming him in two gulps.
“What the hell?” screams Hiram athletic director Dennis Windsor as the Wild Kingdom-like scene unfolds before cheering fans.
“Send me your bill,” Dorn says as custodians rush to clean up the mess. “Whatever it is, it’ll be worth it if we make SportsCenter!’”