The old New Paltz Hawk would have surfed down rows of bleachers on a tray from the Hasbrouck cafeteria during basketball games.
Most times, he wouldn’t even use a tray. He’d just fall down the bleachers on purpose.
“I would just fall. Like, literally just tumble,” said Ben Quick, a former student at SUNY New Paltz and the former man behind the mascot costume. “I would come away with bruises, and I just didn’t care. It was fun.”
When he would need a rest from all this activity, he could be found perching up high in the Elting Gym. And when he regained his energy, he’d start running into walls. Between all the running, dancing and falling, being the old Hawk was a lot of work.
But the old mascot for SUNY New Paltz is no longer. The new mascot’s name is Hugo, and in exchange for the fuzzy, brown costume Quick wore prior to last semester, the school purchased a new costume that is more animated in its features.
Quick, who was a baseball player at SUNY New Paltz and performed as the Hawk for two basketball seasons, wasn’t too happy about the change.
Sure, the old costume was a bit tattered, Quicksaid. The tail was coming off and the soles of the feet were wearing through. And on top of that, it was hot. At the end of every basketball game, Quick would remove the suit and be able to wring out the sweat that soaked the T-shirt he was wearing underneath it. There was a fan in the costume, but it didn’t always work.
“It was a giant brown sweat suit,” Quick said. “I say sweatsuit because that’s all I did in it. It was just a big furry coat that covered me top to bottom. And this giant hawk head that was actually really scary looking.”
According to Stuart Robinson, athletic director for the Athletic, Wellness and Recreation Department, the costume had been pulled out of Athletic Department storage after almost a decade of having not been worn. He believes it was purchased in the early 1990s, but was not used much by the department until Quick took up the position as mascot.
With the exception of the New Paltz Hawks’ jersey Quick wore, the old costume looked more realistic, like an actual hawk. It had golden feet that came up to the shins and a headpiece that looked very much like a hawk’s actual head. One of the athletic department coaches had brought her son in while Quick was wearing the costume. The child was absolutely terrified.
“He drew a picture of me at his preschool because he was so scared,” Quick said. “He drew it and wrote ‘Hawk go bye-bye.’”
So, when Quick first learned SUNY New Paltz would be getting him a new costume, he was initially excited.
“I was like, ‘That’s wonderful,’ because the suit was pretty old and worn,” he said.
Last semester, Quick said, he was contacted by Student Affairs. They had heard about his act as the New Paltz Hawk and wanted to work with him.
“They were like, ‘We’re going to introduce this new Hawk suit. We want you to do it; we heard you’re great. You go do your thing and we won’t try to stop you.’ So, it was great and I was excited for it,” said Quick.
But when Quick first saw the new suit, he wasn’t thrilled with it. The school had picked a costume design that would be light-weight and cooler to wear.
“And it was, and that was cool,” Quick said. “But I got it and it had these big, blocky feet that I couldn’t run in. And I was like, ‘Great, now I can hardly move around.’ They were like these giant crow feet that were like boots, as opposed to the other ones which were totally flat on the bottom, so it was like wearing slippers.”
The colors of the costume also didn’t thrill Quick. It contained shades of blue and orange, which he thought looked ugly. And considering the stunts he did in the outfit, he was concerned he wouldn’t be able to perform the way he had in the past. He felt he had a duty to the “cult following” he gathered from fans of the basketball games, and also to his fellow athletes.
Quick had given the Hawk a reputation for motivating the crowd. He would do push-ups, play air-guitar and dance a lot.
“I think it’s a law of physics,” he said. “Anything you do in a Hawk suit is automatically funny.”
At his first game, the Hawk had made friends with an enthusiastic small child.
“Every time I’d pass him on the sidelines, I’d point at him and he’d point at me, or I’d high-five him,” Quick said. “And then during one of the time-outs, I grabbed and brought him on center court and we had a dance-off. I’d dance and he’d dance, and I’d try to do what he would do. It went over really funny.”
But the Hawk also had a competitive and antagonistic side.
He would save his bleacher-tumbling act for the very moment an opposing team member would be making a foul shot. He would laugh at the other team when they missed. Sometimes, he would wave a dollar in the referee’s face, pretending to bribe him.
“Ben was an outstanding mascot because Ben took it to a different level,” Robinson said. “Other schools coming in noticed our mascot. He wasn’t just standing in a corner.”
Quick was enjoying being the mascot.
“I was having so much fun wearing this giant hawk suit. No one knew who I was,” he said. “I could be completely anonymous and just be an idiot, and it would be funny.”
So, despite how he felt about the new costume, Quick decided to make do with the one he had been given.
He agreed to appear at an unveiling of the new Hawk, where he had one of his baseball friends wear the the old suit and stand in the middle of the field. Quick ran out in the new suit and tackled him. That was the first glimpse the public had of the new Hawk. He spent the rest of the event taking pictures.
He started getting contacted by Student Affairs more frequently. They had a number of events they wanted him to appear at. And although he wasn’t being paid, he showed up.
At the revealing of the Hawk’s new name, Quick said, he’d asked a woman from Student Affairs what it was. She wouldn’t tell him.
He began to think Student Affairs was controlling the Hawk not him. He said they asked him to do specific things, like stand patiently next to the president, and asked him not to do some of the things he was notorious for.
“There was no more stunting. They were like, ‘We don’t want you to do anything crazy. We just need you to come and shake hands,’” Quick said. “I was basically turned into a puppet. That’s never what it was about for me and it was never what I wanted that to become.”
Quick said he showed up for a number of the events, but he started to enjoy doing it less and less.
There was one time where I showed up for an event and I walked around, and they weren’t even where they said they were going to be,” he said. “So, I just left. And I was like, ‘You know what? I’m volunteering to do this. I don’t feel like being campaigned around for their own cause.’
Today, Quick attends Emerson college in Boston. Having changed his major while at New Paltz, he decided a program at Emerson was a better fit for him.
Despite his unhappy ending as the New Paltz Hawk, Quick walked away with the Athletic Director’s award for dedicated service to the department. Robinson said he gave Quick the award “because of what he had done to resurrect the concept of a mascot at our athletic events and for creating a sense of spirit.”
Quick’s days as Hawk may be over. But the close relationship he developed from working closely with the Athletic Department will likely continue. Because SUNY New Paltz doesn’t put as much value in its sports department as some schools do, he said, it made the relationships between the athletes stronger.
“The athletes kind of hung together because we had to,” Quick said. “We were the outcasts of the school. It wasn’t about separating the school population. It was about supporting one another.”