A determined group of students and staff at Montclair State University noticed a lack of school spirit and decided to take action. In turn, they formed a group called Team Rocky and take turns donning the Rocky the Red Hawk mascot uniform in order to spread pride at more events around campus.
Up until last semester, Rocky only came out for “high-end events like homecoming or alumni events,” said Hannah Lindeblad, Coordinator for Marketing and Digital Media for Student Communications at Montclair State. Now, Rocky shows up all over campus at events and in public places to interact casually with students.
Team Rocky is made up of 13 students, consisting of men and women who work as either Rocky or as a Rocky handler. This year is the first time that there is a whole team dedicated to making appearances as Rocky. For the last four years, the Red Hawk mascot uniform was worn only by one student, who graduated in Spring 2015. Their goal is “to get Rocky out on campus and spread Red Hawk pride,” according to Kyle Kowal, the graduate coordinator for Team Rocky. The team really wants to get students to see all the good that Montclair State has to offer through Rocky.
“When you think of Montclair, people think it’s just a commuter school — no big deal — but Montclair State really does have a lot going for it,”said Lindeblad.
“I love Montclair, but it was not my first choice of school,” said Vienna Bonato, a Rocky handler. “But, this year it’s been different since joining Team Rocky. I’ve realized the great things about this school, and it has pushed me to get involved.”
Handling Rocky means watching out for his safety, communicating for him and keeping him hydrated. “You are the voice of Rocky,” explained Lindeblad. These people have an important job since, according to a Rocky himself, you are “deaf, blind and mute” when in the costume.
Rocky started to get around on campus last semester by going out and interacting with students at different events. He first appeared at mostly basketball games, which all the members of Team Rocky agreed are some of the most fun events to attend. “I love basketball games. They’re fun, because you are the mascot cheering for your team,” says Rocky “B,” who wishes to remain anonymous. Kowal explained that “they started off at games and really branched out from there.”
Now, organizations want Rocky at their events. Bonato’s favorite event at which she handled Rocky was Montclair State’s Improv League and Friends presented by Players. “That was really fun because I brought Rocky there and he got to play games on stage with the cast, and it was definitely entertaining. The audience reacted really well,” Bonato said.
“I, [as Rocky], got to walk hand-in-hand with Susan Cole for a mile and a half,” explained another member who plays Rocky. He walked as Rocky to the annual Montclair Fourth of July parade with the president of the university. Rocky laughed as he remembered “sitting in the back of a police car, with Susan Cole riding shotgun.”
With Rocky appearances gaining popularity among organizations on campus, it really brings a sense of spirit to events that was not there before. People expect to see the mascot at events, explained Rocky B. “People have started to notice that Rocky is coming out more, opposed to a year ago when no one knew what the bird’s name was.”
Before Team Rocky existed, “[the] campus was dead,” explained Rocky B. “Rocky is reviving the school spirit.” They hope this spirit will stay for future generations. “I don’t think that Montclair State really has any rituals and traditions that can span generations, and that’s what we are trying to start,” said Kowal.
Everyone on the team agrees that Team Rocky has boosted their spirit at Montclair State and helped them feel more involved. Commuter sophomore Nicole Osorio said, “My school pride changed a lot since freshman year. I used to find it hard to appreciate the school and get involved, but after joining Team Rocky I’ve met so many awesome new people.” With a smile, she said her experience has been “like no other.”
“Team Rocky has boosted people’s confidence [by] talking to people as Rocky or as themselves,” Kowal said.
Bonato agrees with Kowal and is grateful to be a part of the team, because she has the opportunity to “instill school spirit into other students,” in the hope that others will experience this same change in perspective.
Radiating with school pride, Rocky B insisted, “We may not be a D1 school, but it’s still important to have that same pride as a D1 school.”