Two of Canada’s finest Olympic athletes were quick to point out what was perfectly obvious Wednesday in the atrium of the CBC building – that Pachi, the new mascot for the 2015 Pan Am Games, is a big hit with kids.
Both trampolinist Rosie MacLennan and wheelchair basketball player Tyler Miller – both Olympic gold medallists – recognized Pachi the Porcupine as not only being popular with children, but an inspiration to young athletes in waiting.
“The biggest part of all this is putting a face to the Games for the kids,” said Miller, as Pachi was unveiled Wednesday, almost two years to the day before the Pan Am Games open in Toronto.
“They are the future… . Many of these kids here are 8 and 10 years old, and in a couple of years when the Games are here, they’ll be at the prime age to begin training for a sport. If you can put a face to the Games now, it’s integral to inspiring young athletes and continuing our country’s tradition in sports.”
“I know when I was young, it was inspiring for me to see the (mascots) and the athletes up close. It helped motivate me to make my dream come true as an Olympic athlete,” MacLennan added.
Pachi made a tremendous debut amid hundreds of excited children, their parents and Pan Am officials. The contest to design a mascot began in January, with the winner selected in online voting by children. Some 4,000 entries – created by 15,000 schoolchildren – were submitted, attracting 33,000 voters online.
The winning entry went to four girls – Michelle Ing, 13, Paige Kunihiro, 14, Jenny Lee, 13, and Fiona Hong, 13 – from Buttonville Public School in Markham.
Their teacher, Mari Ellery – who got a hero’s applause Wednesday – said Pachi was “just a little idea” that grew from a class project.
It was Ellery, who coaches wheelchair athletes, who noticed a Games-related meeting online last Christmas and felt the design contest would help her students get involved and feel part of the event itself.
“The fact the kids were voting on it was special. It gave that feeling that everyone could feel included,” Ellery said.
Naturally, no one at the school dreamed of winning the contest. Ellery’s class of about 25 students divided into groups of between two and five to begin designing mascot entries; suddenly, the four girls were told their design had made it to the top six.
“They came around to the school and started shooting video and everything. It was pretty exciting,” Ellery said.
The four girls called themselves the Pachi Pals, and came up with a cute porcupine whose quills came in five colours representing youth, passion, collaboration, determination and creativity.
Paige Kunihiro helped come up with the name after looking up Pachi’s translation in Japanese.
“It was Pachi, Pachi … meaning happy clapping together, and the girls thought the Games will have a lot of fans clapping together, so the name just fit,” said Wendy Kunihiro, Paige’s mother.
A sign saying “Vote Pachi” was erected in front of their school in Markham, which will be home to the badminton competition. The school’s website also became a launching pad for the Vote Pachi campaign.
The final decision on the winner came last Wednesday, and Ellery and the girls had a tough time keeping it a secret.
“We’re all pretty excited about it. It’s been great for our school and for everyone involved,” Ellery said.