Every institution has their traditions and legends; and SUNY New Paltz has Hugo the Hawk.
The tradition began many years ago with professor and falconry expert Heinz Meng, who served on the faculty for 50 years. According to SUNY New Paltz’s website, the hawk represents the academics, athletic and personal attitudes associated with the college. While the hawk is a celebrated tradition, including participation in commencement, our beloved mascot has not always been so lucky.
“About 5 years ago I saw the old mascot costume sitting on the floor in an equipment room,” said Baseball Head Coach Matt Griffiths. “It was worn and ragged and hadn’t been used in a while. At that time more students were starting to come to basketball games and other events so I thought it would be neat to have someone to wear the costume again to add to the growing atmosphere at games.”
Griffiths is attributed with the rebirth of our mascot and is therefore responsible for the on-court entertainment.
“The mascot at New Paltz was resurrected,” said former mascot Ben Quick, adding that all the credit should go to Griffiths.
Quick filled the hawk suit until he transferred schools; spring 2010 was his final semester as Hugo.
The hawk’s web page explains that because hawks soar high above the ground in search of prey, they embody the core mission the school has for its students—to continually challenge themselves and descend upon knowledge and opportunity like a hawk would its prey.
“The mascot is a symbol of our school spirit, our history, and traditions,” said Griffiths. “Having Hugo present at athletic contests and campus events adds a level of excitement to the venue.”
According to Quick, when Hugo was awarded a new, historically significant name, his purpose on campus changed.
“It initially was an athletics department thing and the administration, when they redid their logo and everything, kind of adopted Hugo,” said Quick. “Around the time they gave him the name, they started using him as the face of the school.”
Now, with a fresh costume and Huguenot name, our mascot is all over the school, brochures, and advertisements.
“They’ve used it for a lot of PR stuff, like move-in day as a visible icon, and that’s not what Hugo is supposed to embody for me,” said Quick. “The scope of what you can do is certainly reduced if you have to shake hands and kiss babies the whole time.”
While the purpose and mission of the mascot can be debated, the school felt that Hugo’s presence was important enough to maintain that they bought a new, custom costume. Together Quick and Griffiths brought a dancing, flailing, diving hawk back to life.
Griffiths explained that Quick was an obvious choice to don the hawk suit because he was creative and energetic.
“Everything is funny in a hawk suit,” said Quick. “It’s a law of nature.”
Though he lacked a theatrical background, Quick literally threw himself into the position boasting that bruises were just part of the job.
“Ben brought it back to life – he totally exceeded what anyone expected,” said Griffiths. “At times, fans would be missing large chunks of the game because they were watching him! Since then, Dave Lostaglio, a baseball player has been doing a great job with it.”
Though Quick can no longer dance (or flail) in a hawk suit, he hopes that his tradition will live on.
Current mascot Dave Lostaglio, a second-year business major, agrees with Quick and Griffiths. He feels that the purpose of Hugo is “to pump everybody up, pump up the fans, to have fun with the crowd and give them a show.”