There are a few things one might observe when attending a Lehigh sporting event: the stands saturated by a sea of brown and white, a talented marching band and of course Clutch — the mountain hawk who serves as the institution’s mascot.
Clutch coordinates with Marching 97, the cheerleaders and the official student-run section appropriately named “Clutch’s Crew” to lead a crowd during various athletic events.
While the mascot predominantly appears at home football and basketball games, he also suits up for cross country meets, soccer games, lacrosse games and wrestling matches.
Given many students’ familiarity with Clutch, those not associated with the school’s community might assume that he, and the nickname “Mountain Hawk” at large, have played an integral role in the Lehigh community since Asa Packer laid the institution’s foundation in 1865, but such an assumption would be inaccurate.
Lehigh did not formally adopt a mascot until November 1995, when the Lehigh Student Senate and the Department of Athletics jointly introduced Lehigh’s first-ever athletics mascot, the Mountain Hawk, and added “Mountain Hawk” as the new nickname for the institution’s athletic teams.
The Mountain Hawk was not bestowed a name until Nov. 19, 2008, making Clutch only 10 years old. Prior to the change, Lehigh athletic teams were referred to as the Engineers, which reflected the university’s deep roots in the railroad industry.
While many people embraced the change, including primarily the large portion of the student body who catalyzed it, a vast population of alumni objected to it. Steve Banco, ’88, who played as a free safety for Lehigh’s football team, said that he believes the name Engineers carried more tradition and spirit than Mountain Hawk.
“I feel very close ties to the fact that I was an engineer,” Banco said. “And while I understood they were trying to change the image of Lehigh from just an engineering school, I thought Mountain Hawks didn’t hold any tradition.”
However, while Banco dislikes the mascot choice, he said that it didn’t have a crushing impact on him because he was on his way out and felt strongly that no mascot could ever discredit his time as an Engineer.
“I was and always will be an Engineer,” Banco said.
Fortunately for Banco and the alumni who share similar emotional connections to the original nickname, the athletic teams that were referred to as the Engineers up until the point of the formal adoption are still referred to as such.
Lehigh has never attempted to disparage or bury that tradition — it’s ingrained in both the history of the institution and the athletics program alike.
Bryan Kleppe, ’88, a former Lehigh rugby player, also said he feels passionately about his ties to the Engineers. Similarly to Banco, Kleppe was not phased by the adoption of the Mountain Hawk. He said that the change likely meant more to many alumni before the 1980s, as they were “Engineers” longer than those who graduated in the late 80s.
But for Lehigh’s Dean of Athletics, Joe Sterrett, ’76, who earned All-American honors as a senior quarterback and graduated 19 years prior to the institution’s formal adoption of the Mountain Hawk, the change was similarly inconsequential.
“Personally, I was proud of being an Engineer but not defined by it,” Sterrett said. “I didn’t feel it was as big a deal as some people have made it out to be. Some people may feel it’s a bigger deal, but I never thought it defined who I was or anything else. I never felt like my identity was being stripped away or however people might want to characterize it.”
Not only was he unfazed by the switch, but Sterrett also said that it was an appropriate decision and turned out to be an asset that had a great impact within the community. Clutch is used for community service events as well as to generate enthusiasm for campus spirit events.
Sterrett said that it is about what the students want.
“If this is what students wanted and felt strongly about, then I’m totally good with it,” Sterrett said. “It’s supposed to be an experience for the current students. Maybe someday down the road somebody will want to do something different — they’ll have that opportunity too.”
But for now, the Mountain Hawk and Clutch will continue to serve as symbols for Lehigh.