Cornell University students treasure the chance to serve as the Bear mascot.
It used to be an honor that was handed down from one mascot to his or her chosen successor. The mascot always came from Cornell's prestigious hotel school in Ithaca, N.Y., and held the position for two years.
From 1972-1978, the role of the mascot was passed among three students who all wound up living years later in southern New Jersey.
Bill Quain, now of Ocean City, gave it to Chuck Malamut, who lives in Galloway Township. Malamut chose Ron Winarick, now of Linwood, as his successor. None of them attended locally or knew either of the others before attending Cornell.
"I always wondered about the guy who picked me, what he saw in me," Quain said. "I try to be up and excited about life every day. That's what I saw in Chuck. He was a happy guy with a great outlook. Somebody who wanted to help other people. It also helps when you're only happy if you're constantly the center of attention."
The way the mascot is picked has changed over the years. A committee now picks the student who gets to be the mascot. The Bear is present at every Cornell football and ECAC hockey game. It also makes special appearances for charity and at other sporting events.
By tradition, the mascots lived in anonymity until the final home hockey game of their senior year.
"If 50 people in the school knew I was the mascot, that was a lot," Malamut said.
Mascot memories have been rekindled with Cornell coming to Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall for the ECAC men's ice hockey tournament today.
Fourth-seeded Cornell will face No. 3 Dartmouth at 7:30 p.m. No. 2 Yale will face 12th-seeded Colgate at 4:30 p.m. The winners will play in the championship game Saturday at 7:30 p.m., with a consolation game preceding it at 4:30 p.m.
Quain and Malamut plan to see Cornell play this weekend, while Winarick was unsure if he could attend.
"It was empowering," Winarick said Thursday night of the Bear's secret identity. "You hid behind the head. You can pretty much do whatever you wanted. In Ithaca, the Bear was god."
At the final home game, the Bear performs a strip tease with the band playing appropriate music. Piece-by-piece while on ice skates, the Bear pulls everything off until there is nothing left but underwear and the mascot head.
Finally, the head comes off and the Bear's identity is revealed.
The life of the mascot was much different in the 1970s. The Bear could get away with crazier things than he or she could now. Now in their 50s, all three remember well some of their more wild times as if they had just happened.
Winarick, 54, who owns a hospitality management and development company in Delaware, remembers getting a police escort into the Bosto•Garden and then taking the ice at the historic arena at intermission.
Quain, who is legally blind, wound up in the hospital twice during his mascot career. During a football game, an opposing fan jumped on to the field and chased him until he either got tackled or ran into a goal post. Quain says accounts of the incident vary, but he fainted. Another time, he watched a figure skating event the night before a hockey game. When it was his time to skate during intermission the next day, he tried a triple toe loop but fell and his mascot head came off.
He suffered a concussion, but Quain managed to hide his identity by cramming his face into the suit.
"It was two great years," said Quain, 58, an author, entrpreneur and college professor. "The four months I remember of it were fantastic."
Malamut, 56, was more of a trickster during his days as the Bear. The day before a hockey game against Clarkson, Malamut picked up 20 of the worst-smelling raw fish he could find. During an intermission, he gave them to people in the crowd and when Clarkson returned to the ice, the team was bombarded with dead fish.
Against Harvard, whom Malamut said was Cornell's biggest rival at the time, he tied a chicken to the Harvard goal net between the second and third periods.
"They did not take it very well," Malamut recalled.
As he stood at center ice, five to six Harvard players converged on him, but Cornell was inspired by the event. The Big Red were down two goals heading into the third but rallied to win by three. A headline in the local paper the next day read, "Bear saves the day."
"The Bear was charged with the unique responsibility to represent the university by getting to the line but not crossing the line," said Malamut, 56, a financial advisor for Merrill Lynch in Egg Harbor Township. "I had a lot of fun with a lot of great memories."
Malamut felt lucky when it was his turn to be the Bear. The school had just gotten a new costume and he didn't have to deal with the years of blood and sweat that had seeped into the old one.
Quain, on the other hand, inherited a costume that smelled awful and had coat hangers holding the head in place because it had been crushed over the years.
"It was terrible," Quain said. "It was old. It smelled really bad. I just tried to run and let the air pass through."
These men were the Bear for two years, but it's something that has stayed with them for a long time. Anytime Quain goes to a school reunion or is around people from college, he's introduced as the Bear.
His former classmates didn't know for the two years he did it, but they knew it at the last hockey game when everything came off and he skated around while the crowd sang, "Goodnight Billy."
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