Palo Alto football parent Harry Nizamian acts as mascot

Palo Alto football parent Harry Nizamian acts as mascot

Kevin Kannappan, Staff Writer

During the time of the year when our minds are focused on the merry spirit of the holidays, we can appreciate the amount of joy the simple things in life bring to us.  Sometimes, even the smallest actions can make a huge impact.  Some fans truly are fanatics, decorating their faces with war paint and memorizing stats down to the most minute detail.  Palo Alto High School has something different. Paly fans have a way of spreading energy and inspiring fans that is simply unequaled. At other schools mascots jump around and fans sing fight songs. At Palo Alto High School, Harry Nizamian does push ups.

All fans have means of celebration. Emotions translate into fist pumping, hoarse voices, and chest bumps.  The energy is almost infectious.  Occasionally, the sound of confidence and aggression puts a little fear into the opponent and silences their fans.  But among all the regular fans is a special fan:  the team’s mascot.  He does more than just dress up for the team, he acts as an emotional representative for the crowd.  Harry Nizamian represents Paly’s fighting spirit at all times, whether the team is up or down.

Palo Alto High School’s mascot is the Viking.  Vikings, of course, were medieval warriors, and are a perfect symbol for all-out competition.  Vikings were known for their willingness to attack with much less armor than their foes.  They were aggressive and brought mayhem upon the civilized world.  Paly is a public school that competes against the elite West Catholic Athletic League (WCAL) schools.  Paly’s competitiveness shows that it is true to the Viking visage.  Yet, Paly has no formal mascot jumping around in a Styrofoam suit; instead, it has Harry Nizamian.

During Palo Alto’s version of Friday Night Lights, Paly students and spectators cram into Hod Ray Field, eager to see the Vikings complete another slaughtering.  Sometimes there is a frigid bite to the air and freezing rain that drives off some fans, leaving only those who are willing to weather the elements in support of their team.  Still, every game, home or away, hot or cold, rain or shine, no matter the odds, Harry Nizamian is always fighting for the Viking win.

Most football fans have seen the Oregon Duck rejuvenate the fans of Eugene with his display of push ups.  Nizamian does push ups, but they are a little different: more exhilarating, more tough, more proud.  Every time the Vikings score, Nizamian does the amount of points the Vikings have in push ups.  For a man eligible for social security, he certainly has whipped the Duck’s tail feathers with his efforts.  When Paly Viking teams work harder, so does Nizamian as our fan and mascot.
Spurring the crowd with fighting spirit, Nizamian helps Paly students show their school pride.  Graham Marchant (‘11) attends every football game and is able to build off of Nizamian.

“I think that the push ups are funny as well as inspirational,” Marchant said.  “Because you sit there as a Paly student and think, if a parent is willing to do push ups for every time we score, we need to be louder and back up our team.”

Nizamian’s influence is not limited to fans alone.  Paly cheerleaders appreciate the contributions of Nizamian because they are able to increase the crowd’s intensity. Sophie Jorasch (‘12) has been on the cheer team since she was a freshman and has noticed livelier support since Nizamian started his tradition.

“The push ups really pump up the crowd and as a cheerleader it’s really nice to see everyone getting so into the game so we all love it,” Jorasch said.  “He makes the games more fun to watch and be a part of too.”

Harold A. Nizamian’s path to becoming Paly mascot was far from ordinary. He did not grow up in Palo Alto and his family was never sports-oriented.  Raised on a farm, he immediately learned how to work hard and he developed a strong perspective on what is important in life.

“I was born in Philadelphia, and I moved at an early age and lived in upstate New York,” Nizamian said.  “I was brought up in a foster home and in a chicken farm.  I learned to appreciate the good things in life and I learned a set of values and work ethic that was embedded in me forever.”

After his childhood, Nizamian finished high school in Long Island and developed a passion for sports that carried into his adult life as he began to support sports teams rather than play them.

“I was always very passionate about sports,” Nizamian said.  “I played soccer in high school and got my varsity letter.  I also did a lot of running and ran the marathon in San Francisco.”

After graduating from high school Nizamian was drafted into the army.  The military taught him dedication, leadership and further strengthened his ability to work hard.  These qualities would prove to be the essence of his life as Paly’s mascot.

“I was drafted into the Korean War in 1952 and spent two years in the army,” Nizamian said.  “[The experience] was incredible and I began to realize the importance of hard work.  I became the best soldier of my class and was sent to leadership school.”

After spending two years in the military, Nizamian attended graduate school at University of California Berkeley and was launched into the working world becoming vice president of Dakin Incorporated in the early 60’s.  Dakin was originally a company that sold firearms taking in $30,000, but its toy section was booming and selling over $250,000.  The company immediately shifted its focus to the production of toys.  In 1967, after an unfortunate accident resulting in the loss of the head of the company, Dakin turned to Nizamian to lead the charge.

“I was promoted from vice president to chairman, CEO and president in 1967, and held that position until I resigned in 1990,” Nizamian said.  “I took the company from three million in profits to over 240 million.”

Nizamian loved working for Dakin and especially wanted to be involved in the production of its toys in hopes that he would be able to spread happiness.  Happiness was the foundation of Nizamian’s passion, and he radiated his happiness to the world with each stuffed toy he made.

“I was heading the development of the company and I liked to be involved in getting creative with our products and spreading the joy from our toys,” Nizamian said.

The qualities Nizamian learned from his life, a strong work ethic from his childhood, a passion for sports from his high school sports career, dedication and leadership from the military, and joy and happiness from running a toy company form a unique combination that made Nizamian the ideal mascot.  Dustin, Harry’s son, plays on Paly’s varsity lacrosse and football teams, and it was at a lacrosse game that the push ups made their debut.

“The push-ups came from lacrosse and transitioned to football,” Harry said.  “We were playing Menlo [High School] and we were behind four goals, and Virginia Proceviat told me to do some push ups in hopes that it would bring good luck.  So I did them, and all of a sudden, we scored a goal.  So she told me to keep doing them, so I did and we ended up tying the game and going into an overtime victory and the crowd went crazy over my push ups.”

Nizamian loves to help the Vikings win, and feels closer to the team and his son as a result of his efforts.  No longer a participant in sports, Nizamian’s passion has transformed into his role in supporting his son.

“The push ups carried over to football because I wanted to help in [their] win too.  I felt very close to the team and very close to Dustin,” Nizamian said.  “I have jumbled my schedule so that I can attend every game.  It’s amazing how the fans build off my passion; they all get going after I give them a little push with my push ups.”

Dustin, however, is cautious of his Dad doing all these push ups, but loves that his Dad is so involved in his sports.

“I am worried he is going to hurt himself,” Dustin said.  “I am glad he is having a lot of fun and getting the crowd all riled up.  I think since we don’t have a mascot that he is good to have to help cheer on the team.  My dad has been awesome in helping me in my sports and supporting me and his support helps me have a good time.”

As a good father, fan and mascot, Nizamian takes pride in kindling Paly sports’ spirit.  Nizamian has developed his passion through  his high school sport team experience,  his military service and his leading role in a toy company.  This passion has led Nizamian to pure happiness and joy.  This passion has led him to become Paly’s mascot and motivational leader.  Now, he has the opportunity to share that passion with fellow fans.  Now, he can inspire Paly fans to do some push ups of their own.