Anyone who has met Rocky the Red Hawk knows that the extroverted mascot has never met a stranger. Hugs and high fives are his M.O. And while no one knows Rocky’s identity, he’s everybody’s friend. Despite all that, Rocky rose to the challenge of social distancing – setting an example as Montclair State’s indefatigable modeler of ideal behavior for Red Hawks.
Rocky’s annual “reveal” is no different.
Each year, after years of secrecy, members of Team Rocky reveal themselves at the University’s Commencement by donning Rocky’s big yellow talons along with their caps and gowns. But with in-person graduation postponed until it’s safe to gather together, this year’s graduating Rockys revealed themselves virtually – through social media.
Ja’Quan Dees revealed himself via a YouTube video posted to his instagram account. “Being on Team Rocky was one of the best college experiences I’ve had,” says Dees. “I’ve met people that I will call family forever and been to places that I never thought I’d go.”
Dees joins six other graduating seniors who have worked as mascots or handlers on Team Rocky. The “Rockys” include Dees, Paul McGroarty, Mustafa Abdus-Sabuur and Josh Mariscal. The Handlers: Karina Escobar, Makena Wolcott and Lateisha Exi.
That’s right – Red Hawk pride is spread so wide that it takes more than one Rocky to wing it on the sidelines and appear at events all year. Team Rocky keeps a busy schedule, turning up at about 300 different events each year.
Dees graduated in January with a degree in Justice Studies, but held out for the reveal until now. He’s currently pursuing a master’s in Criminal Justice with a specialization in Terrorism Studies at John Jay College. “I plan to become a Federal agent,” he reports.
Karina Escobar is graduating this May with a degree in Family Science and Human Development with a concentration in Family Services. She will attend Columbia University for her Master of Social Work in the fall.
“Even though I was not a Rocky, I am grateful that I was a handler,” says Escobar. “I was his eyes, voice and ears. Rocky truly is the embodiment of Montclair State and everyone on the team is absolutely amazing. I began on the team as a freshman and seeing where the team is now, it is insane. We grew – both in members and our Rocky status. We get recognized more and you can see that we all love being on the team.”
Josh Mariscal is graduating with a degree in Communication Studies with minors in Leadership Development Through Civic Engagement and Religious Studies. He plans to return to Montclair State for his master’s in Higher Education.
“Being on Team Rocky has made me realize the amount of school spirit our mascot can bring,” says Mariscal. “The increase in events requesting Rocky over the years has brought people closer, and made them appreciate the campus even more than they would have, which is amazing to see as a part of the team.”
Makena Wolcott, who earned a degree in Psychology, agrees: “Team Rocky has allowed me to find a family on this campus that loves to spread school spirit as much as I do.” Wolcott minored in Leadership Through Civic Engagement and is going to work for Disney Parks Live Entertainment in Florida as part of the creative team.
Mustafa Abdus-Sabuur is graduating with a degree in Business Administration, with a concentration in Management and a minor in French and plans to go on to graduate school.
“Being a part of Team Rocky has been such a great feeling!” says Abdus-Sabuur. “The Team itself – there are so many great people that make it that much better. Having the opportunity to be Rocky was an experience I’ll cherish forever. Being able to see the excitement and joy on students, faculty and children’s faces will always be a great memory.”
Paul McGroarty, a Filmmaking major with a minor in Theatre Studies who plans to work for Disney beginning with the Disney College Program starting in August, will miss Team Rocky as much, if not more, than anyone.
McGroarty is behind many of Rocky’s videos including the “Year in Review,” “Rocky on the Street” and a video Rocky made with his buddy mascots from other schools on Zoom, that was viewed more than 10,000 times. He has danced as Rocky at Homecoming, run Rocky’s social media, brokered a meeting between Rocky and the popular new Philadelphia Flyers mascot Gritty, and even planned, with Student Communications Manager Hannah Wiese, to take Rocky to Daytona in April to compete with the cheerleaders at the NCA & NDA College Nationals.
“This would have been the first time Rocky went with the team to perform,” says McGroarty. “We worked really hard with them at practice, and even went to cheer camp with them in Boston.”
McGroarty handled the disappointment in true Team Rocky fashion: “Sometimes you don’t get to experience what you built. It ends up guiding and being great experiences for others.”
In his Instagram reveal, McGroarty thanked the University and his fellow students and apologized for the deception: “For all of you I have lied to over the years, I apologize…but it was for the greater good.”
All of the graduating Team Rocky members have warm words for Director of Student Communications aka “Rocky’s Grandma” Cindy Meneghin and for Wiese, the team manager and “Rocky’s sister,” who have given Team Rocky a place to roost in their office.
“We are really a family and it’s all because of Hannah and Cindy,” says Escobar. “I would not have been the person I am today if it wasn’t for both of them.”
“They taught me how to be a better leader by listening and using creative thinking to achieve goals,” says McGroarty. “Montclair State’s been a second home to me and I just loved every second of it.”
Meneghin and Wiese say that Team Rocky members put their heart and soul into the job of helping students feel a part of the Red Hawk family — from their first Rocky high five to their last.
“It can be really hard not to tell anyone that you’re Rocky — especially since Rocky is such a fun part of the life of the campus,” says Wiese. “But for those who never tell a soul, the big reveal at the end is all the more special.”
Rocky the Red Hawk’s Year in Review:
Story by Staff Writer Mary Barr Mann
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