Dec. 28, 2008
by Justin Heinze '09
The Saint Joseph's University Hawk has long stood as the quietly resilient symbol of the power and strength of the school's athletic prowess. Something in the simplicity of a bird of prey seems to perfectly capture what a mascot should be all about. There is nothing showy or overplayed about the Hawk; everything from the sharp curvature of the beak to the plain and open oval eyes suggests honor and integrity and some undefined value. Most of all, however, what perhaps best defines the Hawk is passion, and passion is what senior Tim Klarich, the man behind the mask, is all about.
When asked about what initially interested him in becoming the mascot, he cites the St. Joe's- Boston College showdown in the second round of the 1997 NCAA Tournament. In that game, the fourth-seeded Hawks and the fifth-seeded Eagles went to overtime, where SJU won in a thrilling 81-77 finish.
At the age of ten, Klarich was already thinking big. Childhood is the time where the seeds of great dreams are planted. Most great athletes can always point to one moment in their life where they knew absolutely what they wanted to become after witnessing one of the myriad miracles of sports. Though the Hawks were eliminated in the next round (by a top seeded Kentucky team that made it all the way to the championship game), their overtime victory lit a flame in Klarich.
"If you can't play," he said, "this is the next best thing."
Hailing from northeast Philadelphia, Klarich knew early on his passion lay aimed in the direction of Philly sports. As he watched SJU games, he began to take note of the Hawk mascot.
"It's pretty intriguing," he said. "The mascot gets a full ride. It's the one thing I always wanted to do."
Following this passion was made easier by his older brother Steve, who first brought the tradition of the Hawk into the family during the 2001-02 season, and continued serving as the mascot through the 2002-03 season.
"My brother loved every minute of it," he added.
To be considered for the job of the fearless fowl, Klarich went through a lengthy selection process that included interviews and submission of a resume.
"I treated it like any real job," he said.
And in a way, it's that and much more. The Hawk is perhaps most notable for continuously flapping his wings from start to finish of every game, without pause. It is this endless motion, this ceaseless display of passion and excitement that helps to separate the Hawk from the average college, and even professional, mascot. Such devotion is not without a price, yet Klarich seems well suited to the rigors of his position.
"My legs hurt me the most," he says. "Now I just try to get a good stretch in beforehand."
It's a situation that few can weigh in on. In the history of the Hawk, dating back to 1955, there have been thirty-one different incarnations of Hawk Hill's version of Bruce Wayne. And in all likelihood, there have been thirty-one people in history who know the feeling of flapping a winged costume for several hours at a time. Try to just hold your arms out in the air for more than ten minutes. It is not a pretty feeling.
"My arms were sore at first," he admitted. "After the first game, though, I just got used to it."
Though he follows no specific training regimen, Klarich runs whenever he can to keep his legs fresh and to build up endurance. This can be difficult, due to how much time he misses from school on trips with the team, during which time he doubles as manager. Recently, SJU completed a lengthy road stint in Hawaii, which Klarich points to as a standout moment in his experience as the Hawk thus far.
"Everyone caught on to what the Hawk was," he said. "It was really cool to see fans of other schools catching on."
Not all opposing fans are always as understanding of a school's time-honored tradition. As a precaution and security measure, there is a security guard which shadows the Hawk throughout the games. However, Klarich notes that there have been no incidents with away fans. I ask him if there have been any run-ins with other school's mascots. After all, the Phillie Phanatic, the city's other great sports icon, has become infamous for beating down weaker, ill-conceived mascots whenever they come to town, particularly such world-beaters as Billy the Marlin of the Florida Marlins.
"I'm not going to be the one to make a move," he chuckled.
The Phanatic was named for the lunacy of Philadelphia fans in the 1970s. The Hawk, however, has always reflected a deeper side of the city's consciousness. Strong and silent, the Hawk will never need pranks or antics to be inside the head of the opponent. Klarich's manner is easy and light, yet it is never in doubt just how seriously he takes his loyalty to his school and his job.
"This is my team, my city," he said. "What could be better?"
What Klarich brings to the Hawk tradition is a love and energy for both the sport of basketball and the university as a whole. It is a passion as constant as the flapping of the Hawk's wings, which through both good and bad will always beat in tune to the drumbeat of the school's heart. And perhaps it is this steadiness and consistency, backed by a line of inspired students like Klarich, that has helped evolve the Hawk from just another mascot into a symbol of something far greater.