The Girl in the Dragon Costume
By John Henry
Photos by Ron Jenkins
Natalie Sanders jumped at the chance to be Charlie, the mascot. Not only is she part of Carroll’s football tradition, she is part of the Southlake community.
Literature has given readers some fictional dragons that will always be part of a trip down memory lane.
Tolkien introduced us to Smaug in The Hobbit. We became acquainted with Maleficent through Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, and Harry Potter’s Hungarian Horntail existed on a diet of cloven-hoofed, ruminant mammals — cattle, sheep and goats — although he preferred humans.
In Southlake, however, we found a nonfiction Dragon whom we’ll likely never forget.
Natalie Sanders came to the position of Southlake Carroll’s mascot, “Charlie the Dragon,” as enthusiastically as a quarterback celebrating a game-winning touchdown toss.
Pick me! Pick me! Pretty please!
“Football is a huge tradition at Carroll,” says Sanders, a senior. “I always wanted to be a part of it, but I wasn’t good at band or dancing. I’m certainly not strong enough to be a football player.”
Rare is the soul who feels an obligation to jump in a heavy dragon suit in August and September in Texas, but Sanders is that person. She says it’s like being one of the cheerleaders, but “without all the practice and flips.”
“I was impressed by Natalie’s initiative in the spring when she requested to be the mascot,” says Julie Cox, CREW (the school spirit organization) sponsor. “I love how she is always willing to help.”
But according to Sanders, she was the least likely to volunteer for the role. For a minute, the plan was to keep it a secret. At the final football game, as she envisioned it, she would reveal herself, astounding every observer who knows her personality as more reserved.
“I’m not the most outgoing person,” she says. “Whenever I told people that I’m going to be Charlie, they were shocked. ‘You don’t seem the person who would do that.’ But it’s so cool. You can be whoever you want in the costume.”
That’s not to say she isn’t trying to be faithful to Charlies of the recent past. It’s important to her to carry on the tradition, although the CREW practice of doing pushups for every point Carroll scores probably will be a no-go for this Charlie. But Sanders is putting herself out there in other ways. As Charlie, Sanders gives back and contributes outside the football field.
“I thought that being a part of CREW would be a good way to get involved with the community.”
One of her first assignments as Charlie was a visit with elementary school children, who had many questions for the giant reptile. The experience with the kids was “adorable,” she says. The answers, of course, had to come in the form of waving and dancing. Charlie, like any mascot, isn’t verbal. The dragon just waves and dances.
The transformation starts when she puts on the costume. “It’s pretty fun,” she says. “It gives me a real Dragon spirit.”
It is also heavy, she said, and, yes, hot. “I will get out of the suit and it looks like I just took a shower.”
Charlie, err, Sanders is an interesting person. There is far more to her than being a school mascot. She is extra-extracurricular.
This school year, she will be the treasurer of the Carroll Medical Academy, the school’s advanced academic program for students interested in pursuing a career as a medical professional. The program features intense curriculum in math and sciences.
Sanders aspires to be a veterinarian.
It was no coincidence, her family insists, that her first word was “dog.” It’s also a nice fit — a love of the trinity of math, science and animals. Where she begins her undergraduate studies in pursuit of her career is still in question, though it will likely be in the Northeast.
“I like the cold,” she says.
Sanders also will be taking on the role of treasurer for a new organization at the school, Z Club. Founded by classmate Katy Lin, Z Club is a branch of a global organization called Zonta International, a women’s empowerment group that “sheds light on issues women face and gives them a voice to advocate for their own issues,” Sanders said.
Sanders also is involved with The Dragon Event, one day in which students take part in service projects throughout the community. This school year, she is overseeing the event’s logistics.
Most interesting, perhaps, is her one-woman organization, Students R United. Sanders started it last year in response to COVID-19 and as part of tutoring work she does with mostly middle school students. She compiled all the money she received from tutoring and gave it away in the form of two $500 scholarships to seniors from Fossil Ridge High School
Sanders asked counselors at Fossil Ridge to spread the word about it, and then she developed a questionnaire for scholarship candidates to fill out. She asked what the students were passionate about, their incentives for going to college and their academic abilities. Sanders is raising money again this year and is considering expanding to include more tutors. “One of the biggest motivators was forming community,” says Sanders. “Students tutoring students, and students helping other students in the area.”
Spoken like a true Dragon.