By DELLA HETHCOX
As the lights dimmed in Dodd Auditorium, University of Mary Washington students settled in for a riotous evening as 11 beloved student contestants vied for the coveted title of Mr. UMW, a crown that is not worn lightly by the winner. Just ask last year’s champion, Mikey Barnes, who proudly carried out his Mr. UMW duties over the past year.
Hosted by the Association of Residence Halls, the event was originally created to include the male demographic on campus since the campus was dominated largely by women due to the history as a former women’s college, and according to the current president of ARH, Ray Celeste Tanner, senior communications major.
Since 1999, this popular event unites the campus in an effort to raise money for a pre-selected charity. This year, contestants raised money in honor of the Lustgarten Foundation, which is dedicated to advancing the research to diagnosing, treating and searching for a cure for pancreatic cancer.
During the annual event, the contestants show off their singing, dancing and other wacky talents. Over recent years, ARH has chosen themes for the event such as Disney or the Olympics, but this year was all about superheros. From Spider Man to Captain America, everyone’s favorite superhero made an appearance.
Determining the theme was a team effort for members of ARH. “It’s difficult to find themes that are unique, fun, work with a large group of men, and draw in a crowd, so when the Superhero idea came up, we sort of just went with it,” Tanner said.
Behind the scenes, programming chair Stephanie Buckler, junior Latin major, worked tirelessly throughout the semester to ensure the event’s success, particularly in the weeks leading up big night. From superhero research, choreography, scripts, music and Ultron and Jarvis voiceovers, Buckler has not missed a single detail.
It’s not all fun and games, though, as contestants have also had to raise awareness using social media, campus activities and work on their talents. All the proceeds raised during the change wars will go directly to the Lustgarten Foundation.
For Buckler, the change wars tabled on campus were a favorite addition this year, since it involved the students and contestants interacting in person and not just via Twitter. “In the past we haven’t asked the Misters to be there during tabling, but they get really excited and make everyone else excited as well,” Buckler said.
Proving the event’s popularity was the ticket line that stretched from Dodd Auditorium in George Washington Hall to the lawn in front of the Link. Students did not seem to mind as they joked with friends and chatted about their weeks.
Former contestant Chris Markham, junior journalism major, and former Mr. UMW champion, Mikey Barnes, junior communications major, were the emcees for the event, bringing a lively energy to the evening with their bromance and jokes.
Wearing Batman and Olaf onesies to partake in the theme, Markham and Barnes passed on wisdom to this year’s men as they paraded across the stage with their dates. Markham and Barnes seemed a bit surprised when Mr. Commuter kissed his date, although the crowd went wild.
Like a traditional pageant, the eleven men performed an opening number, were subjected to awkward introductions, as well as crowd favorites: the talent portion, accompanied by superhero costumes. The Mr. UMW hopefuls showed off their diverse talents, from magic tricks to badly played Celine Dion songs on the recorder to crushing apples with their bare hands, the 11 men were not to be outdone as they vied for the title. Of course, like any good pageant, there was lipsyncing to Taylor Swift and Madonna complete with Mr. Eagle Landing losing his pants and girls rushing the stage.
Mr. Ball, portrayed by Ian Spangler, was excited to be a part of the production and compete with his peers in the name of charity.
“I got involved because it supports a great cause and it’s also rewarding to be a part of such a quirky, exciting UMW tradition,” Spangler said, noting Buckler’s hard work. “I was surprised at how much work Stephanie put into the event. It was clear every step of the way that she went above and beyond, something for which all members of the event were thankful.”
Throughout the show, Markham and Barnes raffled off movie baskets, fleece blankets, gift cards, while asking the audience to answer trivia questions in order to earn Mr. UMW t-shirts. After intermission, Mr. Alvey, Mr. Jefferson, Mr. Bushnell and Mr. Russell were eliminated. The crowd did not take these eliminations lightly, booing loudly at the results. However, the show went on and the contestants quickly moved on to the costume portion of the evening.
Not to be outdone in the costume portion was the Crocodile Hunter, the Joker, Peter Parker, Penguin, Robin and Captain America. Afterwards, Mr. Mason, Mr. Eagle and Mr. Randolph were eliminated.
The remaining four contestants remained on stage for the Q&A session, answering questions about their desired superpowers, their favorite superhero suit material and what it’s like to fly.
The crowd found out that Captain America winds down by eating protein and playing his guitar and that Mr. Framar’s favorite superhero is the Hulk while his favorite villain is the Riddler. It turns out that Mr. Commuter really loves his (fictional) family and crocodiles. Given the choice, Mr. Ball said he would save Washington, D.C. if the world was coming to an end, because in his words, it’s the greatest city in the world.
As the final votes were tallied, Barnes and Markham finally caved to crowd pressure and took to the stage for a dance off to “Come and Get Your Love” by Redbone from “Guardians of the Galaxy” soundtrack.
Although eliminated, Ultron requested that the first four eliminated contestants be allowed to return and show off their costumes. Deadpool, Ironman, Twoface and the Human Torch.
Before announcing the winners, Markham and Barnes handed out awards recognizing the efforts of the contestants: Mr. Framar won the People’s Choice Award, Mr. Virginia won the Philanthropy Award for raising the most money for cancer research and Mr. Russell won the award for Social Media.
In the end there could only be one winner and Mr. Commuter took home the coveted crown, with Mr. Framar as the runner up. Mr. Virginia took fourth place and Mr. Ball took third.
But in the end, Spangler, like many of the contestants had one goal throughout the evening. “My goal is just to make people laugh. Especially in the midst of end-of-semester stress, I hope they walk away having had a good Wednesday night,” Spangler said.