Sunday, May 19, 2024

Burghy: the face of Plattsburgh State

Naomi Bradshaw, the creator of the first Burghy, catches up with Burghy at her home May 1.


By Collin Bolebruch & Michael Purtell

The 1980-81 Plattsburgh State Cardinals men’s ice hockey team blew the doors open for what the program would become. 

That season, the team rostered two All-Americans — Doug Kimura and Gaetan D’Anjou — and finished as national runner-ups in the NCAA Division II National Championship. Though the team was successful in its results, the Cardinals still saw empty seats on game day.

“We had great teams,” said Patrick Kane, then vice president of student activities. “We just weren’t getting anybody.

Kane, determined to drum up local enthusiasm, traveled to opponent rinks looking for inspiration. He came back with an idea: a mascot.


Via “Cardinal Yearbook Vol. 65” Michael Purtell

Burghy rides on the Field House ice resurfacer in 1981.



Kane hit the road again, looking for estimates for a prospective cardinal costume. He visited the manufacturers of the Montreal Canadiens’ Youppi! and the Philadelphia Phillies’ Phillie Phanatic, receiving numbers around $12,000.

“At that point, it was just cost prohibitive,” Kane said.

Kane and the Plattsburgh State Athletics turned their attention to cheaper, local costume makers. When MyNBC5-WPTZ’s new peacock suit debuted in the fall of 1980, it caught the eyes of the cardinal search party.

Plattsburgh State contacted the peacock’s creator, Naomi Bradshaw, with the opportunity to create the first ever Burghy.

“They called me up and they said they wanted a cardinal and they had a cartoon image,  which is what I worked from,” Bradshaw said.

The peacock was Bradshaw’s first mascot costume. She set out to use what she learned from the initial process — an “engineering feat” — to produce a cardinal.

Bradshaw faced a few bumps in the road over the design of Burghy — whether he’d be intimidating or approachable — and the added challenge of making the suit durable for on-ice action.

The pieces of Burghy came from all over.

Bradshaw asked local businesses for scrap metal for the interior structure. She then made the trip to Vermont to purchase foam for Burghy’s beak.

“The beaks were all hand carved out of foam rubber. It’s very hard to duplicate that stuff,” Bradshaw said.

A hockey helmet sat on the wearer’s head and red pantyhose made up the suit’s legs.

When Plattsburgh State came to collect the suit, they were pleased with the results.

“The day that they came to pick it up and to look at (Burghy), they were all inspired. It was gorgeous,” Bradshaw said. “It was all new and shiny.”


Via “Cardinal Yearbook Vol. 64”

Burghy exits a big birdhouse on the ice during a Plattsburgh State hockey game in 1981.



Burghy was set to debut at a Cardinals men’s hockey home game against Union on January 20, 1981. Before the new suit could hit the ice, the student prepared to wear the suit failed out of school, according to Kane.

Kane, unable to find a replacement, got into the suit himself.

“I was not originally the person that I was going to use for Burghy,” Kane said. “We kept (Burghy) a surprise. Nobody had seen it.”

During the game, Kane, as Burghy, busted out of a human-sized birdhouse on the ice. The new mascot was an instant hit.

Burghy appeared in games throughout the season, exiting the birdhouse, skiing while being towed by the Zamboni and participating in a variety of on-ice stunts and gimmicks.

“The kids loved it. We tossed pucks, we brought kids out onto the ice. We had all these engaging things,” Kane said.

Burghy became more than an image for Plattsburgh State Athletics. The mascot made appearances at school events, birthday parties, nursing homes and other activities around the community.

“It’s so much fun to see people recognize you, interact with you and remember you,” Kane said. “It was never about me in the uniform, it was about the uniform itself.”

Kane claimed Burghy solved Plattsburgh State’s attendance problems since his initial appearance. The experience was one of a lifetime for Kane.

“If you walked into my house right now, you’d understand that Burghy has been with me forever,” Kane said. “I’ve got clocks that are Burghy, I’ve got hats, I’ve got button-down collared shirts with a Burghy logo over the pocket.”

Today, the role of Burghy at Plattsburgh State events is shared by a roster of Cardinal athletes, including volleyball’s Bridget Ryan.

Ryan served as Burghy for most hockey games this season, the 2023 Trunk or Treat and the Memorial Hall grand opening.

“You kind of feel like a local celebrity,” Ryan said. “Kids will run up to me and jump in my arms. Some lady made me take a picture with her baby.”

The sophomore stumbled upon the position after the Burghy set for the Trunk or Treat was injured. Ryan accepted some gigs as the mascot and hasn’t looked back.

“I feel way more involved in the community than I ever have, even if they don’t know who I am,” Ryan said.

Her colleagues like taking turns guessing who is in the suit, but children don’t seem to care.

“Little kids think I’m a boy,” Ryan said. “I love people not knowing who I am because then I can do whatever I want. I can do a stupid dance and not feel embarrassed about it.”



Bradshaw made a few different Burghy costumes through the years. 

After Bradshaw retired from Burghy-making, the torch was passed on. Throughout his 43 years of existence, Burghy has changed several times. For some time, Burghy’s beak had teeth.

“Burghy was supposed to be this tough guy and he had teeth,” Bradshaw said. “Come on, cardinals don’t have teeth.”

The current iteration of Burghy came alongside the creation of new logos for the Plattsburgh State Athletics office in 2017. The costume design and construction was outsourced to Maydwell Mascots, and was based specifically on the mark of Burghy running used by the athletics department, said Brian Savard, assistant director of athletics.

The modern Burghy moved away from the tough guy persona, instead leaning into the image of a “fun-loving cardinal,” Savard said.

Young community members seem to approve of the change.

“There seem to be fewer kids that are scared of this Burghy, whereas other iterations of Burghy could be rather alarming for certain children,” Savard said. “The lack of the teeth now, I think, makes Burghy that much more approachable.”

Over the years Burghy became synonymous with Plattsburgh State Athletics through his public appearances and his growing ties to the department’s marketing.

In a reversal of roles, the department showed its appreciation for the cardinal on his birthday Jan. 20. Burghy’s 43rd Birthday Celebration featured a cake donated from Chartwells, party favors and a crowd full of Plattsburgh State hockey fans belting out “Happy Birthday.” Kane dropped the opening puck for the women’s game against Buffalo State.

The display of affection repaid years of joy brought to Plattsburgh by the beloved bird.

“I’ve tried to say this to everyone that has ever put the suit on: It’s not about you,” Kane said. “Burghy is school spirit. It’s camaraderie. It’s enthusiasm. Who is in the suit makes no difference.”


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