A Dream to Inspire Others

A Dream to Inspire Others

Most guys want to play ball. He had a different dream, one some might consider strange.

Jason Hynson, on the field in his Pistol Pete costume during a game

It was just a meeting room at Oklahoma State University’s historic basketball arena. But walking in there that day in the spring of 2002, I knew how lawyers must feel stepping before the Supreme Court.

I faced the panel of judges seated behind a horseshoe-shaped table. Six men who held my fate in their hands. They had all served as the OSU Cowboys’ famed mascot, Pistol Pete. Would it finally be my turn?

These same judges had rejected me before. Twice. Now I was a fifth-year senior. This was my last chance.

“Tell us, Jason,” one judge said. “Why do you want to be Pistol Pete?”

My dream went back to one magical day when I was eight. My dad was a sociology professor at OSU, and I grew up in Stillwater, not far from campus. Our family was big into Cowboy football, and that summer my brother and I went to Fan Appreciation Day.

We lined up to get autographs from the team. My brother held running back Barry Sanders’s autograph aloft like it was the Heisman Trophy. Me, I was awestruck too...by Pistol Pete.

The players were big, strong guys, but this cowboy? He was larger than life. He could get everyone in the entire stadium on their feet shouting “Go Pokes!” and make sure they had fun.

When he signed his name for me, with bullets for the Ps, I just knew I wanted to be Pistol Pete someday. It was like a saying I’d heard once: Sometimes you get such a strong feeling, you know it has to come from God.

Being the mascot fit my personality. I was the youngest of four kids and loved getting attention—and a laugh. I didn’t have the arm or the speed to play football at Stillwater High. But no one could top me when it came to school spirit.

Friday nights I showed up at games with my face painted the school colors and raced through the bleachers, getting the crowd pumped up.

Only seniors could be voted the mascot, and I was a shoo-in my last year at Stillwater High. Not to brag, but I was good. I entered a national high school mascot competition and finished twelfth. There was no question where I was going to college and what I’d do once I got there.

When tryouts for Pistol Pete were announced my sophomore year at OSU, I talked to Curtis, an old youth-group sponsor, after church. He’d been a cheerleader and was now a spirit-squad coordinator at the school.

He filled me in on the tryout process and told me, “You’d make an awesome Pistol Pete.”

Exactly. I worked hard at the mascot training clinics. I mastered the bowlegged cowboy strut. I perfected signing Pistol Pete’s autograph (I had an edge since I’d had years to study the one I’d gotten as a kid).

I learned how to balance the 45-pound head on my shoulders and pantomime emotions from excitement to hope to determination to pride, anything that might arise in a game situation. I nailed it all at tryouts.

Then came the interview with the six judges. The main question was, “Why do you want to be Pistol Pete?”

I’d rehearsed my response until even my girlfriend, Tiffany, my biggest supporter, was tired of hearing it. \“Because I’ve been training for this all my life,” I told the judges.

I ticked off my credentials: hometown boy, my experience as the Stillwater High mascot, my showing in the national competition. If I sounded cocky, well, wasn’t Pistol Pete supposed to show some cowboy swagger?

The judges gathered the candidates to announce their decision. They’d selected two students to be Pistol Pete since there were so many performances— not just at games and matches but at pep rallies, business openings and other events. The first name called wasn’t mine.

They’re saving the best for last, I thought.

One of the judges declared, “Our second Pistol Pete for the 2000-2001 school year is...” I could only watch, crushed, as another student leaped into the air and shouted, “Yes!”

What did I do wrong? I asked Curtis for the lowdown.

“The panel really liked you,” he said. “It’s just that one of the younger Pistol Petes missed a couple of engagements, and they wanted older, more mature students this time. Don’t worry. When the judges like someone and don’t choose him the first time, they usually pick him the next year.”

I shook off my disappointment and renewed my focus on becoming Pistol Pete. Tiffany was behind me 100 percent. I talked up my dream to my coworkers at my part-time job in the audiovisual department, and they were rooting for me too.

When tryouts came the following spring, I was more than ready. I put on the head and breezed through every situation that was thrown at me. Then I strode before the judges again for the interview.

“You know me from last year,” I said. “You know how badly I want this. And you know how good I’d be.” I thought it was a done deal, that I’d spend senior year being Pistol Pete, living my dream.

The judges thought otherwise. They didn’t call my name. This was supposed to be my turn, God! I left feeling cheated and defeated, lower than I’d ever felt in my life. I drowned my sorrows with my roommates and, I have to admit, more than a few bottles of beer.

The next day I walked into the audiovisual department to find my coworkers waiting for me under a huge sign made out of butcher paper.  Congratulations, Pistol Pete! it read in big orange-and-black letters, the OSU colors.

I couldn’t find the words to tell them. I just shook my head, took the sign down and threw it away.

I threw away a lot more than that over the next months. I’d switched my major from business to math, my best subject. But now I lost interest and it showed in my grades. I talked to my academic advisor. “I’m not cut out to be a math teacher,” I said. “What if I change my major again?”

Like this article? Sign up for our Your Weekly Inspiration newsletter, and get more stories like this delivered directly to your inbox