SALT LAKE CITY — Earlier this month, Utah Utes mascot Swoop did his usual job of pumping up the home crowd at the Huntsman Center for the Utes’ home game against the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors, but he did so with a new partner at his side.
“Mini Swoop” stepped out on the court, donned entirely in red, with his own identical swoop mask. The crowd clapped and screamed with excitement; there were even a few signs made for Mini Swoop: one reading “We Love Mini Swoop!”
One should never reveal a mascot’s identity but 13-year-old Ryan Chapman is the boy behind the mask.
Ryan was born with Down syndrome and a heart disease that cannot be cured, only improved and managed. He has gone through three open heart surgeries and many other procedures with his mother, Polly Chapman, and his beloved Swoop doll at his side.
“It’s just been very difficult to watch your beloved son go through these tough surgeries,” Chapman said. “It’s hard not to have him be able to do everything he wants to. … You always wish he could do everything that every other kid can do."
But not every kid can be a mascot for a day with his favorite doll incarnate. Ryan’s cardiologist, Susan Etheridge, has treated him since he was a baby and decided to reach out to the Make-A-Wish Foundation to see what they would be willing to do for Ryan.
“He’s stable but has a pretty complicated disease, so I put him up for Make-A-Wish, which is where the kid gets to decide what they want to do and the Make-A-Wish people kinda make it happen,” Etheridge said.
“His 'thing' is he comes to clinic always with his Swoop doll. He’s got it with him all the time, every clinic visit, every (echocardiogram), everything. So that’s clearly his gig,” recounted Etheridge.
The process for the Make-A-Wish Foundation to organize all of this for Ryan and his family took around six months.
“Ever since he was little, we’ve come to the games. He’s always kind of admired Swoop and goes and seeks him out. We’ve come to know some of the Swoops and they’ve always been very, very good to him,” his mother said.
Ryan followed Swoop in all the activities between timeouts and quarters, including the ball toss, and got to see the game courtside while most of his family and the staff at the University of Utah Cardiology Department sat in the stands, cheering loudly every minute he was on the court.
“The buildup is half the fun for him, so we told him some of the things he could do. We just barely got the Swoop costume this week,” said Polly. “Every day is a great day for him. But when he found out grandma was coming out for it and all his family were coming out, he got even more excited.”
Chapman said the first time Ryan put on the costume, “We all teared up and cheered for him. It was awesome, totally awesome.”
The Runnin' Utes defeated the Rainbow Warriors that night 80-60. The Utes are forever undefeated with Mini-Swoop on the sidelines cheering them on.