The Clutch experience: What’s it like to be Lehigh’s favorite hawk?

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One of the most recognizable faces on campus isn’t even human — it’s a bird with a large brown head and a big yellow beak. While any Lehigh student or faculty member would be able to identify Clutch within seconds upon first glance, very few actually know the face under the mask.

“Being Clutch is actually pretty lonely,” said Natalie Bates, ’15, one of the students who wears the Clutch suit during athletic events, including many football games.

She said it’s very odd going from interacting and joking with people during a game and then not being able to say hello to them when she’s out of the suit because they don’t realize she’s the face under the mask.

“You think you’ve gotten to know them, especially the little kids,” Bates said.

Clutch the Mountain Hawk surveys the football field during the home game against Colgate University on Nov. 15. The mountain hawk became Lehigh's mascot in 1995 and adopted the name Clutch in the early 2000s. (Andrew Garrison/B&W Photo)

Clutch the Mountain Hawk surveys the football field during the home game against Colgate University on Nov. 15. The mountain hawk became Lehigh’s mascot in 1995 and adopted the name Clutch in the early 2000s. (Andrew Garrison/B&W Photo)

Despite the isolated aspect it can bring, Bates loves being Clutch and is excited for Lehigh-Lafayette week.

Clutch and the Lafayette Leopard went to New York City in September and filmed videos together that will be shown at the Rivalry game. They also filmed short videos together in October that have been released every Monday as part of #MascotMonday to get students excited for the game.

Getting ready for football game day as Clutch is no easy feat. Bates said she begins preparing the night before the game by not going out that night and drinking about a gallon of water to help keep her hydrated the next day.

In August, it can get up to around 110 to 115 degrees in the suit.

In the morning, she will change into clothes she doesn’t care about because she knows they will end up drenched in sweat. Once she arrives at the stadium, she gets the costume, then takes a hydration pill and drinks some Gatorade to help keep her hydrated.

Fifteen minutes before the game starts, she puts on pads, followed by shoes, then the suit, the shirt and, lastly, the Mountain Hawk head.

“After a while, you learn how to dress yourself and get ready by yourself,” Bates said.

From there, she runs with the football players through the tunnel that the cheerleaders form. She spends the first half of the game walking around and trying to get the crowd pumped up, especially during third downs.

During halftime, she helps with the various promotions that are held. In the third and fourth quarters, she says hello to the crowd and takes pictures with them because there are less people present, making it a more relaxed atmosphere. She said being Clutch is almost like being a celebrity at times.

She then sneaks away a few minutes before the game ends to go hang up the suit and Febreze it to help keep it from smelling. Once that is all finished, she slips and tries to stay incognito. Bates says people she has interacted with during the game will sometimes see her leave the locker room all sweaty, but they won’t put two and two together. She then goes home and takes a nap for around four hours because she is dehydrated and exhausted from the day.

This is Bates’ third year as Clutch, and while most people get paid for it, she volunteers for free. One of her favorite moments as Clutch was the 2012 Lehigh-Lafayette game. After Lehigh won, the students rushed the field, huddled around her and took pictures with her. She said she felt like she could act as a fan that day as opposed to having to try to get people excited.

“I loved that because the energy level was so high,” she said. Bates had only been a mascot one time before, and it was when she was in high school.

“I had such a blast doing it,” she said.

When she came to Lehigh, she saw a post in the Class of 2014’s Facebook group asking for somebody to be Clutch, so she emailed the person in charge, begging to do it. From there, they screened her, having her work soccer games and scan tickets to get to know her personality, see how she interacted with others and judge if she could remain calm under pressure. Bates noted it is important to not have a temperamental Clutch in case the team is losing or if a fan is heckling her.

Before she was Clutch, pushups were done for touchdowns, but Bates runs up and down the bleachers instead. There are four generations of Clutch suits, and she said they just switched to the fourth one in October, although most people can’t tell the difference. The first two have a similar design with a large beak and goofy look, she said.

When she has the mask on, it takes away her peripheral vision, so she gets scared when people come up behind her. She also can’t walk well because of the talons on the feet of the outfit.

“I’m scared of green morph suits because I don’t know who they are,” Bates said.

She has had people hit her in the head with a football and jump on her back, which disorients and frightens her. Because she is unable to talk and can’t hear well with the head on, she said there are misinterpretations sometimes between her and the fans.

Even though Bates will be staying for a fifth year, she said she doesn’t think she will continue being Clutch next year so she can let somebody else enjoy the experience as much as she has. She said being Clutch has allowed her to become more of an observer and study the people in the stands.

“I like getting the crowd pumped up,” Bates said. “A lot of them respond well to Clutch.”

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