Keeping A Promise: Kilgore Mascot Finds Success With Friend's Dream
Every Friday night the focus typically is on the players. The playmakers, the All-district stars, the All-Americans.
But there is an All-American in Kilgore standing on the sidelines for every game and that's just where she loves to be, inspired by a promise.
You may not be able to see her face, but behind that fierce growl on the Bulldog mascot, is a young girl with an infinite smile.
"I really love being mascot," said Kilgore High School senior Jessica Utzman. "Before high school I had always thought the cheerleaders were the most important or the high steppers were the most important. But, if you didn't have the Kilgore Bulldog, you really wouldn't have a team."
"In real life I'm really shy," Jessica said, "and I wouldn't normally walk up to people and mess with them but in the suit I just kind of take on a different persona."
Eight years ago, Jessica knew she wanted to become the Kilgore Bulldog mascot. It was a job she thought she would not take on alone.
"Sixth grade me and my friend Shawna decided we were going to try out together. She was going to try out for cheerleader, me for mascot."
But the following year, Jessica's dream took a tragic turn.
"In seventh grade, that's the year we try out for eighth grade she died in a car wreck that September."
Shawna's dream of becoming a cheerleader was never able to come true. Six months after her death the auditions were held. Jessica said she never once wavered from the goal she and her friend had set, instead she pushed herself harder.
"Her death made me want to try and pursue it even more. "
Up against eight other girls in tryouts, Jessica was determined she would be the one.
"I tried really hard. I had been practicing for three months before hand to make the skit perfect."
Jessica stepped out and dazzled the judges. "The principal who actually sat in, Mr. Clements, told my mom he had never seen me shake my rear like that before. "
When the final decision was made, Jessica became the force behind the Bulldog.
"I started crying because I knew I had made it and when I went to my mom, she did like all moms and she comforted me and said there is always next year and I fought back tears and said I made it, I made it."
"I think it's great that Jessica kept her promise to Shawna," said Kilgore cheerleader Brittany Gary, "and we just all wish that Shawna could be here to help and be with us."
"I absolutely cried," said cheerleader sponsor. "I had heard the situation with her friend but I didn't know the promise they had made to each other. Knowing that, makes it that much more special that she's here. That's she done this and been committed to this."
It's been a five year commitment for Jessica and over the years she has racked up the awards. Her entire high school career she has been named an All-American and at camp won best mascot. All the while, letting her school pride shine and remembering her inspiration.
"I have no doubt in my mind that if she would have tried out she would have made it too," Jessica said of Shawna, "and she would be as proud of me as my parents are."