Credit: Eric Hartline / USA TODAY Sports

Popular as that googly-eyed auburn visage may be, turns out Gritty has plenty of haters.

“Part of my everyday life!” the mascot confided recently to fifth-grader Mia Fagone. “There will always be people who want to bring you down, but it’s up to you to decide which people you want to bring up with you. And the rest? Forget about them.”

Fagone lives in San Francisco, but she’s clear on how she came to know the Flyers’ floppy cheerleader.

There was that time at her grandparents house in the Philly ‘burbs when a news clip about hockey came on TV. Then the big orange creature made a showing at the Thanksgiving Day Parade when she was spending the holiday in Philadelphia. And then the final stroke — a viral Twitter joke — that cemented the figure in her mind:

Time magazine, he was the person of the year,” Mia explained to Billy Penn, her response relayed by a much-amused father. “His picture was on the Time magazine. So that’s how I figured out about Gritty.”

Fagone’s parents, who lived in the Philadelphia region before moving to California, knew their 10-year-old was a smart cookie. They may not have known she was a budding comedian.

For homework in late January, Mia and her classmates were charged with interviewing someone with perseverance. The assignment, based on a progressive education character development curriculum called “Bit of Grit,” asked the students to “speak with someone who has proven to be ‘gritty’.”

Mia realized she might be able to do one better. She could speak with someone who had proven to be Gritty.

Without telling her teacher (“I want them to laugh when they find out”), she came up with a line of questioning and enlisted her father’s help. Some of her queries had to do with things she’d always wondered, like why the creature’s fur appeared so “dirty and matted,” and some were directly related to the assignment.

Mia’s homework assignment Credit: Courtesy Jason Fagone

I was wondering if you could pass these questions along to Gritty if he is available, Fagone asked her dad to write, because I would like his answers for my project. After a few tries at connecting with the right person — considering the high demand, no surprise handlers at Comcast Spectacor are somewhat overwhelmed — the Flyers mascot actually wrote back.

Among the revelations contained in the answers: Gritty doesn’t sleep.

“I’m excited ALL the time,” the mascot told Mia. “Makes it hard to catch some Zs.” (Pro-tip for anyone chasing that pure nightmare fuel look.)

Also, everyday things inspire Gritty most, from hotdogs to Zambonis to Zamboni drivers — “real nice guys” — to Flyers fans to a simple comb. Why isn’t that comb put to better use? The scraggly orange hair isn’t actually dirty or matted, the mascot insisted: “Lighting is everything. I really do take good care of it. Personal hygiene is very important to me.”

Most importantly, Gritty does believe in the power of perseverance.

“Every day I would look in the mirror…and I’d say ‘you can be the best the Flyers mascot’ over and over,” one of the interview responses read. “I really believed it and now look at your Grit! I made it! I’m the best Flyers mascot!”

There are still some goals Gritty has yet to achieve.

“I’ve also told myself ‘1,000 hot dogs in my belly, 1,000 hot dogs in my belly’ over and over,” the mascot wrote to Fagone. “That hasn’t come true yet, but persistence is key.”

Mia Fagone, with the perfect response Credit: Dana Bauer

Danya Henninger was first editor and then editor/director of Billy Penn at WHYY from 2019 to 2023.