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Birds of a Feather

Montclair mascots uphold tradition, reveal their Red Hawk identities at Commencement

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Montclair State mascot Rocky the Red Hawk in graduation cap at commencement.
Montclair State University mascot Rocky the Red Hawk at Commencement 2023.

Yellow feet were again a B-I-G fashion statement at Montclair State University’s Commencement exercises as three members of the Class of 2023 revealed their top-secret identities as the school’s mascot.

Rocky reveals, a Montclair tradition, bookended the three Commencement ceremonies, with Dena Montez revealing her identity to the crowd at the morning processional and Kyle Kennedy and Andria Reber revealing theirs in the evening. A fourth Rocky Team member, Chaz Campbell, revealed their identity as Rocky’s cousin Ricky, via Instagram.

The four graduates are part of a tight-knit club. Team Rocky, which was formed in 2015, has had only 32 different Rockys, including this year’s graduating class, according to Team Rocky Advisor Hannah Wiese ’13, who also serves as student communications manager for Student Development and Campus Life and advisor for three other student groups, Hawk Squad, Red Hawk Life and Red Hawks of Montclair State. She says some Rockys “perform for years while others just a semester or two.” Other Team Rocky graduates this year include handlers Cam Wade, Deion Woods and Brittany Bascone.

A student in a mascot costume smiles while holding the costume’s head in their arms.
Chaz Campbell, one of the longest-serving Team Rocky members, reveals their identity as Ricky. (Photo by Dena Montez)

One of the longest-serving Team Rocky members, Campbell didn’t don any Rocky or Ricky feet because they are in the middle of packing for a move to Virginia Beach, where they landed a job as a news producer for WAVY TV 10.

“I don’t want to accidentally misplace two big bird talon slippers during the move,” Campbell says, instead choosing to “do the first ever ‘Ricky reveal’ on social media” a week before Commencement.

At 5 feet 3 inches, Campbell says they didn’t meet the height requirement to be Rocky but relished playing his cousin. “Ricky has a cult following at Montclair because of how unlike Rocky he is,” Campbell says. “Rocky is the kind of creature that you want to give a hug and take a photo with; Ricky you want to get as far away from as possible. Ricky’s the antithesis of what a mascot should be, and that’s what I love the most about him.”

Donning the Ricky suit was much like having “a soft fabric bucket over your head,” Campbell says. The Ricky suit is more child- than adult-sized, “so the eyes are located in the beak.”

While Rocky makes an average of 100 appearances per semester, Ricky usually leaves the nest primarily in October, just in time for Halloween, “so naturally, hijinks ensue,” Campbell says.

A student in a Red Hawk costume sits in a chair, exposing their face.
As a graduating senior, Dena Montez can finally reveal she’s Rocky. She also served Team Rocky as a handler, Ricky and Roxy. (Photo by Vanessa Fingerlin)

As another long-serving Team Rocky member, Montez served as a handler, Ricky, Roxy and Rocky in that order beginning her sophomore year. She played to their different personalities.

“Ricky has always been kind of like the creepy, weird cousin, and so, you kind of just have to go out of your comfort zone and be your wildest self and make people laugh,” says Montez, who is graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication. “Roxy, she’s very feminine. Everybody just loves her. She’s very much like your fun little sister. And Rocky is just the big man on campus. His job is to make everybody smile, and that’s exactly what he does.”

She fell into “Rockying” after another team member had a car accident and couldn’t make it to a scheduled appearance. At 5 foot 5 inches, Montez says she was a little short for the Rocky suit but her energy level earned her the opportunity. Ideally, students should be between 5’8” and 5’11” to wear the Rocky suit, as it provides a better fit and visibility.

While she wasn’t fond of comments about how Rocky had shrunk, Montez said she had fun playing all of the Red Hawk mascot family members and didn’t mind being drenched in sweat, which often comes with the job. “Even that was rewarding because it means I did a great job,” she says. “It was fun, so it was worth it.”

The highlight of being on Team Rocky, Montez says, “is just the number of smiles it puts on people’s faces. I know when I visited the school, Rocky was a really big reason I came here because of how welcoming he and his team made me feel.”

A telltale sign that she hosted Rocky on the Street on the Red Hawk Life channel on YouTube this season, Montez’s graduation cap bears her catchphrase: “What’s going on, Montclair?”

A male student helps a school mascot into a golf cart.
As Rocky’s handler, Kyle Kennedy helps Dena Montez get into the golf cart that serves as the Rocky mobile. (Photo by John J. LaRosa)

Kennedy joined Team Rocky his senior year and most recently served as the graduate coordinator for the Office of Student Communications. That job requires coordinating all of Rocky’s appearances, running weekly Team Rocky meetings and the unenviable task of laundering the mascot suits. Using the industrial washers and dryers at the Student Recreation Center makes the job easy, Kennedy says, “But then what happens is like the foam gets all mushed together, and it takes a good four or five hours to get all the suits ready, and then you have to brush them. So, cleaning days sometimes take all day.”

Kennedy, who did a five-year program and is graduating with a Master of Arts in English, says he was happy to be Rocky his senior year. Commencement provides an opportunity for a big reveal. “I’m really excited to reveal myself,” he said before the big day, “I’m wearing his feet.”

Revealing Rocky’s identity before graduation is a big no-no, Kennedy says, and can lead to expulsion from Team Rocky. “Rocky’s identity is a secret at all times, except at graduation. It’s something that we take very seriously.”

Maintaining that secret is part of a handler’s responsibilities. Handlers not only help Rocky navigate campus and other venues, they “speak bird,” which allows them to interpret for Rocky and they serve as security so that no one tries to unmask him and reveal their true identity.

A male student in cap and gown poses with a Red Hawk mascot.
Kyle Kennedy poses with Rocky at his convocation in 2022, a year before revealing his secret identity. He served as the team’s graduate coordinator this year. (Photo by Hannah Wiese)

The graduating seniors wrapped their service grateful for the experience.

“I loved it,” says Kennedy. “I’m so happy I did it.”

Campbell agrees: “I love Team Rocky, the whole community aspect of it.” Team headquarters gives members a safe space to study, talk and be together in community. “Pebbles is also one of the things that helped me get through my senior year.”

Getting to serve their final year with Pebbles the Pupscot, who just completed her first semester on Team Rocky, was an added bonus. Campbell, who graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism with a minor in Public Health, had a stressful semester, particularly after an overnight internship, followed by an 8 a.m. data-heavy epidemiology class and was always pleased to see the pupscot. “Pebbles is adorable.”

A student in a Red Hawk costume walks a brown puppy.
Dena Montez as Rocky takes Pebbles for a walk on campus. (Photo by John J. LaRosa)

Montez, who has a dog at home, says having a dog at campus has been nice. “She’s very fun. She’s become like my little puppy, too.”

“Being on Team Rocky was the biggest highlight of my college experience and made me the leader that I am,” says Montez. “I definitely don’t think I would be the student leader that I am if it weren’t for the opportunities that team Rocky has given me. I’m very thankful for being part of that team, and it will forever have a special place in my heart.”

A female graduate wearing her graduation gown holds a decorated cap.
Graduating senior Dena Montez shows off her decorated cap, a nod to hosting Rocky on the Street on the Red Hawk Life channel on YouTube. (Photo by Kera McAndrew)

Story by Staff Writer Sylvia Martinez.