Plattsburgh State’s feathery school mascot has danced at every sporting event, cheered at every homecoming rally and smiled in every photo. But few know the details of the bird behind the mask. And their identity — or at least one of them — isn’t a secret anymore.
Burghy, PSU’s cardinal mascot, doesn’t walk around campus but is commonly seen at sporting or homecoming events and other community engagements, like “Ice Skating with Burghy” at the Field House events every spring semester. The suit — and whoever wears it — is overseen by Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications Brian Savard. Savard said the athletics department will lend the suit to other areas on campus, so those areas will have their own people portraying Burghy. His staff of student workers goes to sporting events, and they’ve all been paid minimum wage for wearing the suit to a game.
“Anybody who has come up to me and said they were interested in being Burghy, I’m always more than happy to bring them on,” Savard said.
The Burghy costume is comprised of six parts: a mesh piece of long underwear, a mesh padded chest plate with built-in bird pectorals, a furry red jumpsuit, shoes shaped like bird talons (worn with or without socks), a headpiece with a viewing hole through the mouth and miniature fan on the inside and matching furry red gloves. Savard said he washes the suit himself before each game.
There are a few unwritten rules students who wear the costume must follow. Burghy can’t talk, pick up children, seem threatening in any way or reveal themselves in public. But according to Savard, their identity doesn’t necessarily need to be kept a secret.
“There’s no contract, but it’s just out of the mystique and the lore,” Savard said. “My student staff knows who Burghy is, but I wouldn’t go around [telling everyone].”
Senior bio-medical studies major Stefan McKain has been Burghy since last semester. McKain said he enjoys cheering on the PSU teams with the crowd at hockey games the most as the mascot.
“Everyone should try and be a mascot,” McKain said. “You’re not going to get another opportunity in your life to do it. It’s a pretty easy job. You just wave, cheer, get the crowd going, take the suit off and go about your business.”
McKain said he doesn’t mind being Burghy but would have mixed feelings about wearing the suit without getting paid.
“The physical stress and the heat is not worth not being paid for,” McKain said. “I’m privileged to have the job at all, but if I had to do it freely, I wouldn’t do it for fun.”
Kids who interact with McKain at events have tried to grab him playfully, but he said it’s just part of the job sometimes.
“I get a lot of attention [from kids] at the hockey games,” McKain said. “It’s not a bad thing, but it does get annoying over time.”
Another student, who asked to remain anonymous, volunteered to be Burghy at homecoming events a few times at PSU. The student said even though they didn’t get paid, they very much enjoyed being the mascot.
“I had people coming up to me, saying, ‘Burghy, do you remember me from 1975?’” they said. “I thought, ‘No, I don’t remember you,’ but I felt famous. I felt so important.”
The student said they had many experiences, good and bad, as Burghy. Kids have varying reactions, some who love Burghy and some who burst into tears at the sight of them.
“I feel bad, but I understand why Burghy might be scary [to kids],” they said. “The eyes just look at you.”
Although McKain doesn’t have a problem letting people know he’s Burghy, the other student chose to remain anonymous because they believed the mascot is universally adored by all, no matter who’s under the mask.
“Most people love Burghy, even if they’ve never met him,” they said. “You’re told that you can’t tell anyone you’re Burghy, [but] I like the idea that you don’t know who’s under the costume. I think it’s kind of funny. I think the whole thing is that it’s supposed to be this mystery. You’re not supposed to know who Burghy is.”
Email Emma Vallelunga at firstname.lastname@example.org