ZOOperstars entertain at IceHogs game

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-114064210530765.jpg’, ‘Photo by Doug Halberstadt’, ‘These zany inflatable characters (left to right) Harry Canary, Bobby Orrangutang, and Whale Gretzky performed during intermission in Rockford Friday, Feb. 10 to entertain the 4,410 people gathered to watch the IceHogs defeat the Quad City Mallards 7-0. ‘);

What do a 9-foot canary, a 10.5-foot whale and an 8.5-foot orangutan all have in common? No, this isn’t the start of a very bad joke; it’s a real question. The real answer is, they’re all part of the menagerie that makes up the world-famous ZOOperstars.

These zany inflatable characters were in Rockford Friday, Feb. 10 to entertain the 4,410 people gathered to watch the IceHogs defeat the Quad City Mallards 7-0. Harry Canary, Bobby Orrangutang, Mackeral Jordan, Mario Lemule and Whale Gretzky performed during the intermissions.

In addition to the characters who came to Rockford, several others travel the world putting on shows at professional and collegiate sporting events, festivals and corporate outings. The inflatable mascots are named by combining an animal with a famous person or athlete.

Some other members of the ZOOperstars are Tiger Woodschuck, Rusty Walrus, Clammy Sosa and Ken Giraffey Jr., just to name a few. The costumes are blown up by a special fan motor and battery mechanism. They range in height from 8 to 12 feet, and cost around $5,000 to manufacture.

The ZOOperstars are the brainchild of brothers Dominic and Brennan Latkovski and partner Wayne Earle. All three were team mascots while in college.

The show began in 1998 with 25 engagements and now the troupe does more than 250 shows annually. They have grown from the original three performers to a staff of more than 15. This allows the ZOOperstars to put on shows in as many as three different cities on the same night.

The group began with one character, Ken Giraffey Jr. They now have more than 30, and new characters are created each year to keep the show fresh and original. In addition to traveling all across the United States, they have also performed in Canada, Mexico and as far away as Japan. They also have been seen on ESPN, ESPN2, CNN/SI and FOX Sports.

Fame doesn’t come without its costs, though. As fun and as crazy as the show seems, there is a certain element of danger involved. Not only have the entertainers sustained numerous cuts and bruises while bouncing, flipping and flopping inside these costumes, Earle suffered a third-degree separated shoulder one night while performing at a San Antonio Spurs game. He was on injured reserve for six months.

After appearing at the MetroCentre, the team was headed to a Saturday night show at Wake Forest University. To check out when they may be appearing in the Rockford area again, or for information about how to book a show, log on to their Web site at www.zoo-perstars.com.

Doug Halberstadt is a local resident and is track announcer at Rockford Speedway.

From the Feb. 22-28, 2006, issue

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