The Role Of A Lifetime: Justin Katin As..."Pat Riot"
His school ID and driver’s license both read “Justin Katin.”
But around campus, Katin, a senior at Stevenson, goes by all kinds of names, and frequently hears greetings in the hallway like: “Hey SpongeBob,” or “It’s Beast!”
Even the attendance office has had fun with Katin’s various theatrical personas.
“When I go there to check in for school, they’re like, ‘Hey! It’s 'SpongeBob!’” Katin said with a laugh. “They’ll actually write ‘SpongBob’ on my passes."
They also could have written…’Pat Riot.’ Had they known.
Katin, who has participated in musicals and theater at Stevenson since his freshman year and has snagged three headliner leads, including "Jack Kelly" in “Newsies (Katin pictured right),” "SpongeBob" in “SpongeBob The Musical,” and "Beast" in “Beauty And The Beast,” has also played another prominent character on campus.
He is Stevenson’s very own…"Pat Riot." As in, the mascot. The big, green, fun and cuddly one!
And it was a big secret. Until yesterday.
The cat was let out of the bag on that bombshell when Katin officially revealed himself as “Pat Riot” in Wednesday’s edition of the Daily Digest via a dramatic "de-masking" video.
“I kept it quiet for a long time, but some of my friends eventually figured it out,” Katin said. “And at this point, I think a lot of seniors probably know.
“But I think maybe there are a lot of freshmen and sophomores, maybe even quite a few juniors who don’t know it’s me. I’ve tried really hard to keep it quiet.”
It adds to the mystique, to the fun…to the tradition.
Katin has proudly, and mostly secretly, worn the "Pat Riot" suit since midway through his sophomore year ~ rousing school spirit at dozens of athletic contests, greeting students and faculty in big moments, such as the first day of school or teacher retirements, leading send-offs for teams going to state and attending various major unity events such as StreetFest, Give-A-Thon (Katin pictured left), Spring Fling and countless others. He estimates that he’s been to nearly 300 Stevenson events as “Pat Riot.”
“I’ve tried to bring "Pat" to as many things as possible because I think it’s cool for students to see 'Pat,'” Katin said. “Sometimes, I’ll just be at an event as myself and I’ll think, ‘You know, it would be really cool if 'Pat' were here,’ and I’ll run to go change into 'Pat.' I think it’s fun for 'Pat' to show up to things.
“And for me, I love being “Pat” as much as possible, because I see it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
This final edition of “Stories Of Stevenson” for the 2022-23 school year is special in that it involves not only the video from yesterday, but also a different kind of feature story.
It’s a profile on Katin, but it’s also an explanation of a unique and mostly unspoken Stevenson tradition that has come to define the transition from one “Pat Riot” to another.
“You Kind Of Look Like Me…”
In Choir, during his sophomore year, Katin (pictured right in Choir this year, middle) became fast friends with Jordan Giddens, a senior.
“It was funny, we were wearing masks then because of COVID, and people would get me and Jordan mixed up because we look kind of similar, especially with the masks on,” Katin said. “We would laugh about that and I think that brought us closer.”
Friendship aside, Giddens didn’t let Katin in on a big secret until much later.
“Jordan and I had become really good friends but I still didn’t know he was ‘Pat Riot’ for the longest time,” Katin said. “Eventually, I found out, and I couldn’t believe it. I had no idea. I had tons of pictures of me with ‘Pat Riot,’ at football games and everywhere, and I had no idea all that time that it was Jordan. He kept it a really good secret.”
Katin had barely wrapped his head around the idea that his buddy was “Pat Riot” when he got his mind blown again.
“One day, Jordan called me and asked if I’d want to be the Stevenson mascot next year. And I was like, ‘Uhhhhhh…WHAT????’ You want me to be ‘Pat Riot??’ Katin said. “Then Jordan said, ‘You’ve got to keep it a secret,’ and I was like, ‘Well…it’s kind of a hard secret.’ I was so excited about it. I wanted to tell everyone.”
The secret part was important.
Jordan Giddens explained the whole “Pat Riot” tradition to Katin, starting with how the mascot was passed down to him…and how no one on campus is supposed to know who “Pat Riot” actually is.
“Pat Riot,” a Stevenson tradition that goes back decades with costumes that took on many different looks, was part of the Giddens family for nearly 12 years before Katin came into the mix. Matthew Giddens (Class of 2014) started the family tradition when he took on “Pat Riot” duties in the early 2010s.
The current “Pat Riot” is then given the privilege of picking the next “Pat Riot” and Matthew Giddens picked his sister Jaclyn (Class of 2017), and then Jaclyn, the first to wear the more modern “Pat Riot” suit that is used today, picked Jordan (Class of 2021).
There were no more Giddens to be “Pat Riot” after Jordan.
On the day that Jordan Giddens asked Katin to be “Pat Riot,” he joked about how he and Katin looked similar…and that would help with the transfer.
“He said, ‘Well, you kind of look like me…’ so, to him, it was like ‘Pat Riot’ was kind of still being kept in the family, like I was part of the Giddens family, too,’” Katin said.
“I’m just so thankful he passed it down to me because it’s definitely been my most valued experience here at Stevenson.”
Acting The Part
Of course, besides being able to pass for a member of the Giddens family, Katin had other essential qualifications that made him the perfect “Pat Riot” candidate.
He is a perfectionist who was intent on learning how to be the best mascot possible. He taught himself moves such as “The Worm” and “The Griddy,” which he performs at athletic events. And he’s watched hours of YouTube videos about how to be a fun and engaging mascot.
“If you look it up, there’s a ton of videos about how to be a great mascot,” Katin said. “Like how to wave, how to high-five, how to hype up a crowd. I was always looking for new things that I could do that would help make people happy, or get them excited.”
Katin also happens to naturally have a big personality ~ outgoing and friendly. He’s a theater kid who comes from a long line of family singers ~ his grandpa, his aunt, his father. Since grade school, Katin has been singing and acting ~ and performing, which is essential in the mascot world.
“I was playing sports, pretty much every kind, until about fifth grade, and that’s when I told my parents I wanted to take singing lessons,” Katin said. “I got set up with a singing teacher and I started lessons and, at that time, my teacher was directing a play at the (Buffalo Grove) park district and she told me I should really audition for it. I auditioned, but I was not good. I was surprised that I ended up making it, though. It was “Fiddler On The Roof.” That was my first (production). I was in the ensemble. I was shaking backstage. I was so nervous.”
The nerves went away quickly. Katin, who describes himself as an “extrovert” and a “talker,” was craving more. The very next time Katin tried out for a show, he got a part…in “Peter Pan.”
Between Stevenson, the Buffalo Grove Park District and a few other bigger theater companies, Katin has been in more than 25 productions, and has held a handful of leads. One of his favorite leads outside of Stevenson was playing Adam Sandler’s "Robbie Hart" in a production of “The Wedding Singer.”
“'Robbie Hart' is definitely my favorite character, mostly because it’s Adam Sandler,” Katin said. “We had very similar lines to the movie, it was a very similar plot. That was so fun. It was such a great part and such a great show. I love the serious roles, but the goofy roles…those are the fun ones.”
Cue “Pat Riot.” That’s a role in which Katin can be as fun and as goofy as he wants. But in many ways, he’s still playing a part…and the actor in him is always cognizant of that.
“I think Theater and ‘Pat Riot’ intersect a lot, they go hand-in-hand,” Katin said. “Being overly dramatic and making all of your gestures really big is good for both. Being really expressive is really important in both, too.”
Bringing a cartoon character like “SpongeBob” (Katin pictured left) to life also required some extra effort with expressions and gestures, and with vocal sounds.
“The voice of ‘SpongeBob’…it was a lot, especially singing with it,” Katin said. “But I grew up doing voice impressions with my cousin and one he always did was ‘SpongeBob’ and I was always trying to copy him so I had already been doing that voice a little bit. ‘SpongeBob’ was so fun.
“The ‘Beast’ (Katin pictured right) was fun, too, because I had never played a part like that with all the makeup.
“Stevenson has given me so many experiences in theater that I'm going to take with me. I’ve been so fortunate to have so many diverse and different experiences that have really broadened me as an actor.”
Katin personifies the idea of a diverse and well-rounded Stevenson student. In addition to being “Pat Riot,” he’s also a member of the Freshman Mentor Program, National Honor Society, and Pep Club, and he is a Flag Football diehard.
“My team won the Flag Football championship three times in a row,” Katin said proudly.
But it’s his membership in Stevenson’s various musical productions as well as multiple acting- and singing-related clubs (Choir, Improv, Thespians, Tri-M, Script Studio and Polyphonics) that has really helped his artistic development.
And Katin isn’t going to back off of his trajectory now.
The Next Act
In the fall, Katin will be majoring in musical theater at Indiana University, where he undoubtedly earned his spot in a program that is beyond highly competitive. It took only 10 high school seniors from across the country for its entire incoming freshmen class.
Katin, a decorated actor who is a two-year member of the Illinois All-State Musical, had to make all kinds of video submissions while undergoing various auditions to make the cut at Indiana.
“I put all my shows in the video, I did a whole montage of me being 'Pat Riot,' it was a lot,” Katin said. “And I think there were maybe 1,700 videos submitted. The fact that they took only 10, and to know that the program is going to be so individualized, that made me really excited to pick Indiana. It’s such a great program. I still can’t believe this is happening to me. But I’m super excited to jump in and explore.”
That’s how Katin has been about most things, from singing to acting to taking on the role of school mascot: jump in and ask questions later. He says it’s his spontaneity and high tolerance for operating outside of his comfort zone that have served him well in theatrical roles.
“My goal is to be singing, or dancing or acting someday ~ on stage or in film, or on Broadway,” Katin said. “There’s no greater time that I’ve ever had than being in front of an audience and hearing people cheer.”
Of course, the cheering is the loudest when Katin transforms into “Pat Riot.” The adrenaline rush that comes from making people smile and scream with excitement simply can’t be matched.
Katin has had so much fun being a mascot that, over the years, he’s expanded his duties to include “guest-mascotting” at a few local grade schools as a "Wildcat" and a "Bear." And he’s even been the "Easter Bunny."
“People got my name somehow,” Katin said with a laugh. “I’ve actually done a lot of stuff with mascots.”
Saying Goodbye To Pat
However, Katin’s days as a “heavy-lifting mascot” are nearing the end of the line. And it’s incredibly bittersweet.
He’s excited about who he selected as the next “Pat Riot.”
“They,” Katin said, not wanting to give away the gender of the new "Pat Riot," “are going to shut the house down for sure. They are really qualified and I’m super excited for them to take the reins and make it their own.”
Katin is also a bit sad.
He is going to miss being a mascot, specifically “Pat Riot.” He thought about being a mascot at the college level, but decided that getting settled first as a freshman made more sense.
“You never know what will happen in the future, but for now, I’m going to take a break from it, and that’s a little hard because I love it so much,” Katin said. “It’s cool to know someone else will be carrying on that legacy at Stevenson. But…this is a tough one.
“It’s sad to give it up, and I’m not sure I’m ready to, just because of how much fun I’ve had, and how beneficial it has been and how it’s impacted me as a person. I thank Stevenson so much for that.”
“It’s definitely been a part of me.”
And it might be a part of Katin on Graduation Day. He’s trying to figure out a way to bring “Pat Riot” with him to the ceremony in some small way. So Seniors…keep your eyes peeled.
“Not being ‘Pat Riot’ anymore…it’s definitely like leaving a part of me behind,” Katin said. “I’ve had so many great experiences with it, so many great memories. There’s just no way I can compare it to anything else. It’s been my favorite part of Stevenson. I’ve literally loved every second of it.”