Archive for Wednesday, December 22, 2004

St. Joseph’s mascot a way of life at Philadelphia university

December 22, 2004

Thanks to good fortune (certainly not preferred seating for my many donations to the Kansas University Athletic Corporation), I've attended most early-season Kansas basketball games in Allen Fieldhouse.

The Vermont game was exciting and the Nevada game wasn't too shabby, but a contest in between those games caught my eye.

Not necessarily because of the game at hand. KU trounced St. Joseph's, a team that went undefeated through the regular season and was one game away from the Final Four. KU also was one game shy of another Final Four, but St. Joseph's lost premiere guards Jameer Nelson and Delonte West.

Kansas, meanwhile, returned most of its team when the season started in November.

Enough about the game itself.

The real story truly is for the birds.

As in Big Jay, Baby Jay, and most importantly on this night, the Hawk of St. Joe's.

As they do at all KU games, the Jay siblings cheered on the Crimson and Blue.

But if fans took a gander at the northwest floor-level entrance, they found a visiting mascot.

His name is Hawk and he arguably is the most fascinating mascot in college athletics.

With all due respect to the mascots of my alma mater, the Hawk seems second to none -- not because of the costume itself, but the history behind the mascot.

An idea born 50 years ago, the Hawk must flap at least one arm continuously through the course of a basketball game.

That includes halftime.

What happens if a mascot stops flapping a wing?

"It just doesn't," said Marie Wozniak, St. Joe's assistant athletics director. "The motto is 'The Hawk never dies.'"

If both arms ever stopped flapping, however, the person in the costume probably would be dead. The tradition is taken very seriously at St. Joe's. That made interviewing this year's Hawk even more meaningful.

Naturally, it would make more sense for a sports writer to eagerly await a call back from St. Joe's coach Phil Martelli, or former coach Jack Ramsey, who now is an NBA analyst. St. Joe's alum Jamie Moyer, formerly of the Chicago Cubs and Baltimore Orioles, now is with the Seattle Mariners. The major league pitcher is the only Hawk baseball player to have his number retired.

But those prominent figures took a back seat for me when the St. Joe's basketball office called back with this year's Hawk on the line.

The physical ability of Mike Tecce, a St. Joe's senior and this year's Hawk, mesmerized me.

Being the researching journalist one should be, I found it relevant to put myself in the Hawk's sneakers.

Ugh.

After about a minute of flapping, I thought this might be the new exercise craze -- Hawkercize, if you will.

Then minute No. 2 was finished, and so was I.

That's about how long I lasted. A recent history of nagging pain in my right shoulder didn't help the situation, and stretching first likely would have been beneficial.

After all, that's what Tecce does.

A former varsity soccer player at SJU, Tecce said he does a few short pre-game stretches.

"The first half-hour is the most difficult," Tecce said. "After that it kind of eases off."

Oh, so after another 28 minutes, I would have been good to go. That's great to know for future reference.

But when you're in the heat of the moment, Tecce said the wing-flapping is second nature. Once he focuses in on the game, he forgets about the flapping.

He certainly had things to take his mind off the flapping. He shook Dick Vitale's hand before the game (one arm still flapping) in front of the largest venue he's ever witnessed.

"The main thing is the adrenaline, especially with 16,000 Kansas fans yelling," said Tecce, who is the 28th SJU student to wear the Hawk suit. "My adrenaline was through the roof. That definitely helped out."

Although most of the fans were rooting against St. Joe's, a few KU fans were interested in the mascot.

"A couple fans came down and asked about it," Tecce said. "They were really nice people, so that's good."

The second part of the job requirement for the Hawk is that he also is a basketball manager. The women's team has a mascot with the same requirement.

"It's kind of like a double duty, which is fine," Tecce said. "I get to know guys on the team better and get more acquainted with the coaches and everything like that."

While his fellow basketball managers are wearing business attire on the bench, Tecce has a different wardrobe.

"It's a bit of a different suit, but a suit nonetheless," Tecce said.

But Tecce's duties aren't limited to the basketball court.

The Hawk also attends alumni events and graduation parties, even weddings.

The same requirement applies -- as long as he is in the public eye, he's flapping those wings.

Tecce beat out between 10 and 15 mascot applicants. All applicants had to submit an essay on why they should be the mascot.

The mascot, which has existed for nearly 50 years, had one female put on the feathers. That was three years ago. Also involved in student government, Tecce keeps busy. It's not often that mascots travel on the road in basketball, but the Hawk does. And, during timeouts, he runs figure 8's on the floor.

That doesn't always sit well with opposing fans.

"I caught a lot of aggression," Tecce said about the Kansas faithful. "Hey, it's understandable, I'm on their turf."

Unfortunately, I think I was one of those fans. Someone in the student section started chanting "Kill That Bird" and I think I might have chimed in. Maybe.

Sorry, Mr. Tecce, I'm a couple years removed from my college days and wanted to relive them, albeit briefly.

But as I've found out, that bird won't die.

I now realize St. Joe's motto is legitimate.

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