RIVESVILLE, W.Va. — Whether it's cheering on West Virginia University at a football field or basketball court, Michael Garcia's role as Mountaineer is an important job.
But Garcia will always say it is not his most important job.
No matter what the age may be, Garcia loves interacting with and helping children.
"I think that one of my favorite parts, if not the most important parts of what I do, is for the youth," said Garcia. "If I can get (a good message) across to any of them, that's my goal."
On Oct. 22, Garcia came to Fairmont to visit three Head Starts around the county. One Head Start in particular was Rivesville Head Start. Garcia was greeted by loud cheers of "Let's Go Mountaineers" from the students.
But as excited as the students were to see Garcia, Garcia was just as excited to see them.
"It's hard to explain how cool it is, and I think I take it for granted sometimes," said Garcia. "When you can teach kids things valued by the state of West Virginia, it's cool to know you can make an influence in a positive way."
Being the Mountaineer is a lot of responsibility. It's a responsibility that Garcia makes sure he doesn't take lightly. Garcia finds it difficult to describe what it means to be the Mountaineer.
"A lot of times I say it's hard to put into words, but I found the best way to put it into words is that I'm being an example (and) dedicating my time to something I know is important," said Garcia.
Garcia understands how excited the kids are when they see him walk in, because it wasn't too long ago that he was sitting in their seat.
"It's really cool. I remember when I was in the fourth grade, I met the Mountaineer and I remember seeing him and thinking, 'Wow, that's pretty cool,'" said Garcia.
During his reign as the Mountaineer, Garcia has had the opportunity to travel all over the state and meet people from different towns and cities. But this trip was extra special because he is a Fairmont native himself.
"Every time I come back to my hometown, whether in buckskins or normal clothes, (it is special). This is my home," Garcia said.
Garcia has a special place in his heart for Fairmont, and he said his main goal is to give back to all the people who have guided him throughout his journey.
"I just want to make the people of Fairmont who made me into who I am proud," said Garcia.
This was the first time the Mountaineer mascot visited Rivesville Head Start, and instructors were excited to have Garcia speak to the kids.
"I've known Michael since he was little," said Pam Nolan, family resource coordinator. "He is such a positive role model. I think having him come and have him share that positive attitude (is important). He is so accepting. Having him come and interact with the children is such a positive experience for them."
Nolan said it is important for kids to have a positive role model they can always look up to.
"Any positive interactions they have (are) important. It adds stability and encourages them to want to learn," said Nolan.
Nolan said positive experiences, like meeting someone they consider a hero, can be beneficial in the long term.
"Anytime you get them interested in something is really exciting because you know you're going to generate interest in something else," said Nolan.
Nolan knows how busy Garcia is with being not only the full-time Mountaineer, but also a full-time student. She is grateful that he would come and spend some of his time with the kids.
"It's so nice to see the fact that he's developed into a wonderful young man, and he is so giving of his time," said Nolan.
Having the Mountaineer visit different places around the county was a positive experience and something Nolan hopes will continue in the future.
Garcia's advice to children of all ages is simple: "Simply be good and do good."
Information from: Times West Virginian, http://www.timeswv.com