There are over 350 schools that compete in NCAA Division I athletics. In this big jumble of programs, there is one aspect where Marist is totally unique. No other school can lay claim to the Red Fox mascot.
While students are familiar with friendly-looking Frankie roaming the sidelines at football and basketball games, there is a lot more to the origin story of the Marist mascot. Take a trip back to the 1980s to learn how the Red Fox came to be.
By Sam DiGiovanni • November 29, 2021
With a single act of retaliation, Marist College lifer Jim Norman found himself in a moment that would define a collegiate rivalry that persists to this day. While wearing a fox costume.
Early 1980s. Marist vs. Siena men’s basketball game. Loudonville, NY. Norman, who pitched the idea for the first Marist mascot and served as the first one ever, went through his normal routine of play fighting with the opposing team’s mascot. Up until 1988, the college whose team is now known as the Saints used a different team name. Back then, Siena’s teams were the Indians. The Siena Indian wasn’t your typical fun mascot, though, as even fans of his team admitted that he acted like a jerk.
Norman didn’t have the luxury of peripheral view when he was in the fox suit, as the eye openings only let him see what was directly in front of them. His rivals took advantage of it before tip-off. A male Siena cheerleader got down on all fours behind Norman’s legs and the mascot shoved him to the ground.
“That’s B.S!” Norman roared back. He got up, slid his hand out from the sleeve of the costume and threw a punch at the Indian, hitting him on the side of the head. Fans broke up the mascots before they could scrap even more.
Because of Norman’s idea, he got himself into the situation of representing Marist as the school’s mascot. Because of his instincts and sense of pride, he sparked the moment that many point to as a cause of intensity in the Battle of I-87.
As the college’s fight song proudly states, the Marist Red Foxes are on the run. Uphill, downhill, having much fun. Luring their every foe into the Red Fox hole. The identity of being the Red Foxes is inseparable from the college, whose red-and-white color scheme is inspired by the actual animals.
But how exactly did the college adopt the cunning canine as its mascot and logo?
According to the Marist athletic department’s website, the college adopted the red fox as its identity in 1961. William Murphy, a Marist Brother and the school’s athletic director at the time, was inspired by a sports magazine cover that used a picture of a red fox, which is indigenous to the Hudson Valley. Known for being smart and cunning, the fox has represented Marist’s sports teams ever since, save for a brief period in the early 1970s when the football team was known as the Vikings.
Roughly a decade later, Norman, then a high-school sophomore, mentioned the idea of Marist having a mascot to his father, Robert, a Marist communications professor and sports commentator. He was inspired by the San Diego Chicken, one of the most famous sports mascots ever.
“[The Chicken] was in my mind, and I used to go to all the Marist basketball games, even as a kid. I grew up with Marist basketball and football. I just kind of casually said to my dad one day at home, ‘You know, look at the San Diego Chicken. He’s pretty cool. Why doesn’t Marist have a Red Fox?’” Jim said, never seriously intending to become the Marist mascot.
Robert took the idea to Ron Petro, the college’s athletic director and head coach of the men’s basketball team. Petro liked the idea and told Robert that Jim got the job. “‘Oh, what did I get myself into?’ was my first reaction,” Jim said. “He sprung it on me. And I got thinking about it. I was like, ‘Eh, that could be fun.’” During Norman’s tenure, the mascot was simply known as “The Fox”. It would eventually develop the name Shooter from the basketball terminology.
Norman began his tenure as the mascot when he was a sophomore in high school. He had a strong inkling that he would attend the college since he was a local kid and he was able to go there for free since his father worked there. “I took the job as the fox thinking, in all likelihood, I would continue on as a student. And I did,” he said. Norman studied communications and graduated in 1986.
The first costume was ordered with Norman’s measurements but the athletic department didn’t consult him as to what it should look like. Rather than an adorable, cartoon-like mascot like the Frankie the Fox we see today, Norman’s mascot costume looked like a fox that would literally scratch, tear and rip apart the opposition.
“I liked the fact that it was kind of mean-looking,” Norman said. “You want a mascot to look tough and all that.” Worries about inadvertently scaring some children notwithstanding, he enjoyed being an intimidating mascot. Norman claims that some kids enjoyed the fearsome fox while some younger kids got spooked.
Norman developed proper mascot behavior on the fly, learning from his own experience and observing what professional sports mascots do. He would go out with cheerleaders to cheer, though he never did any specific routines from them. He developed a signature motion, the whammy, a hand-raising gesture used to distract opponents when they were shooting free throws that Marist fans eventually did with him.
Norman traveled with the team to various big venues, including South Bend, Indiana when Marist faced Notre Dame and to Madison Square Garden for a neutral-site game. For Norman, the chance to represent his college in the stadium that hosted his beloved New York Knicks was an unbelievable experience.
The first iteration of the fox on Marist’s logo debuted in 1963. A scowling, burgundy-colored fox donned a sailor’s hat with an “M” on it to represent the college’s championship-winning sailing team. A 1965 rendition of the logo showed a black-and-white fox, wearing the sailor’s cap and a long-sleeve shirt, leaping in the air.
Marist retained a fox standing on its legs during the 1980s, featuring a dribbling fox across a black “M”. In 1994, the fox peeped over a black “M”, hoisting itself up with its two front paws and letting its tail fall off the right side of the letter. This logo is not officially used by Marist’s teams anymore but is still featured on official college apparel.
The logo package Marist uses today, featuring a fox on the prowl and big, red lettering for the college’s name, debuted in 2008. The name of the college was added to improve the name recognition of the teams and college. The fox’s nose has a gray shadow on its left side that somewhat resembles an “F”, though this wasn’t an intentional detail that offers any hidden meanings.
Phoenix Design Works is responsible for creating the current Marist logos. The company has created designs for professional and collegiate sports teams and events, including Super Bowl XXXIX, the current logos for Major League Baseball’s Cincinnati Reds and Colorado Rockies and multiple ESPYs award shows. It has also designed logos for product brands like Disney, Coca-Cola, Dodge and Burger King.
“I think it’s important to try to give each brand its own equity,” said creative director Jamie Skiles. “Make it something other people don’t have.” Foxes being a seldom-used team name in sports anyway allowed Skiles to do just that with Marist’s logos.
Skiles and Marist’s athletic department stayed in communication to get the logo just right. After loads of rough drafts over a months-long period of time, they settled on the slanted red typography with a fox on the prowl.
According to the athletics department’s website, the purpose of rebranding was “to build a recognizable Marist brand using the unique characteristics of the Red Fox logo that have been part of the Marist tradition for a number of years. The objective was to incorporate the Marist name into the logo so that sports fans across the country could identify the Red Foxes with Marist.”
Jess King, formerly Center Field’s managing editor, served as the mascot from 2016 to 2020. At football games and basketball games, she would be there. At Marist’s Walk Against Hunger, the debut of Rossi’s Deli’s sandwiches at Marist’s North End Dining or other community events, she was there, too.
During her time in the work-study program with the athletics department, King said to a friend how fun it would be to be Shooter the Fox. She got an email from someone who overheard the conversation asking if she was generally interested. The mascot in place, a junior, was going to be studying abroad that following semester.
King went to McCann Arena the following week to meet Kayla Orlando, the mascot at the time, to try on the costume and learn the ins and outs of the gig. There were two fox suits, two heads and a few sets of paw gloves as well as several jerseys for football and basketball, some of which with the mascot’s name on them.
The only set-in-stone mascot rules were to not talk and not be obscene. She adopted a personal rule of not touching anyone since a mascot doing it to her as a spectator didn’t feel right. “For the most part, I had free reign to do whatever I wanted,” she said.
Simply getting dressed in the costume used to cause her anxiety. The feet for the mascot required a men’s size-15 shoe, so she would wear her normal Converse sneakers underneath them. “I used to go to basketball games an hour before I would have to be out on the court ‘cause it would take me that long to figure it all out and put it on,” she said.
Near the end of her freshman year, she got used to the routine and would start showing up only 15 minutes ahead of schedule.
In King’s sophomore year, she coordinated dances with the dance team, even though she admits that she is not a very coordinated person. “I think it makes it more fitting as to why I was the mascot,” she said jokingly. Collaboration with the dance or cheer squad wasn’t required. It was an effort to inject some excitement into games where she had to cheer on lackluster teams.
“It was really hard to be a mascot for a team that wasn’t doing great,” she said. “The student body constantly not wanting to go to the games at all was tough. I started noticing that people went to games that I wasn’t even supposed to be going to like lacrosse games, baseball games, soccer games.”
Football and basketball were the only sports that required Shooter’s presence at home games, but King started to go to other games, too. She recalled a time where a kid pointed out to her at a lacrosse game that she was wearing a football jersey, not a lacrosse one. “I’m a grown woman in a mascot suit and a six-year-old just roasted me,” she thought to herself at the time.
King spent the spring semester of her freshman year as the only mascot before switching back-and-forth with Orlando the following school year. “It was really wild, the way I was doing it all the time, and then I would see people on campus and they would have no idea,” she said.
During King’s tenure as the mascot, Shooter made national news. It wasn’t an antic or stunt that brought a national audience to fixate on the fox; it was its name.
In the fall of 2017, Marist decided to ditch the name “Shooter” due to the increasingly prevalent cases of gun violence across the country. “Unfortunately, in our culture today, there is a negative stigma to that term ‘shooter,’” athletics director Tim Murray told A.J. Martelli of the Poughkeepsie Journal. “And I just didn’t think it was appropriate for us at this time to perpetuate that term.” The new name, Frankie, is an homage to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was born in the nearby town of Hyde Park.
The athletics department took it upon itself to change the name and develop a new one. The Marist Student Government Association took exception to students not having any part in the process. “Whether you agree with the change or not, you didn’t know about it, and we think that’s a problem,” said the Marist SGA in a statement.
“We acknowledge that you were neither involved in nor notified of the decision by the college, and we entirely understand your disapproval with the process of how the change occurred,” wrote at-the-time Student Body President Matthew Marotti. “We hear you, and we feel the same way. However, while many students may express dissatisfaction, we encourage all students to embrace Frankie the Fox, support our student-athletes and the Athletics Program, and continue to attend our athletic events.”
An online petition to change Frankie’s name back to Shooter amassed well over 1,000 signatures. King, admittedly, was among the Marist students who didn’t understand why the name change was necessary. “I didn’t think anything of it, to be completely honest with you,” she said, explaining that she would have never thought to connect a mascot’s moniker to mass shootings.
But King came around quickly to the idea that the name change was appropriate. She said that it was common for the students who performed as the mascot to go by the mascot’s name within their friend group. King went to shout hello to Orlando, her fellow Shooter the Fox, but then realized openly yelling “shooter” on a college campus was unwise. “That’s when I was like, ‘I think it’s a good thing that they changed the name,’” she said.
Norman served as the mascot through his junior year at Marist, forgoing his senior year so he could focus on internships. By the time he called it quits, he had lived a full life as a scary, anthropomorphic fox.
One time, he recalls, Marist faced Coast Guard in football in Poughkeepsie. The cadets in attendance decided to have some fun with Norman. He remembers hearing a “Pass up the fox! Pass up the fox!” chant. “They pick me up and they started passing me up to the top row and then pass me back down,” he said. “I was not expecting it…I was interacting with them a little bit, joking around and saluting and all that, so I think they were just having fun with me.”
Norman also remembers a brawl during a Marist-Loyola men’s basketball game in which the costume head was stolen. A brawl between opposing players was broken up but the tension was reignited by a fan who approached the Red Foxes’ bench and pushed Rufus Cooper, one of the Marist players involved.
“It just started this whole thing with players and fans and everybody fighting,” Norman said. “And our bus driver — a guy named Al, at the time — runs by me. He’s like, ‘C’mon, fox, let’s get in this!’” Norman put down the fox head and inserted himself, though he claims he just got in the middle of the pandemonium and didn’t throw any punches. When he turned around, the head was gone. He later found out that someone had moved it to another room to protect it.
The punch he threw at the Siena mascot defined Norman’s legacy as the inaugural fox. The players, after hearing what happened, cheered Norman on. During the halftime break, he was approached by a bunch of Siena fans at the water fountain near the locker rooms. “You know what? That guy’s an asshole. He’s had that coming for a long time, we’re actually glad you did that,” Norman remembers them saying.
A few years ago, Norman stumbled upon an online chatroom of Siena fans. He recalls seeing a discussion about where the Marist-Siena rivalry stemmed from. One user suggested it was because of Norman’s punch. “I had to stick up for Marist and for myself,” he said. “Should I have hit him? Probably not, but it was just a reactionary thing.”
The intense rivalry was reignited in the years following Norman’s punch when a brawl between players and fans of both schools during a men’s basketball game put the series on pause for three years. So, while Norman did not entirely spark this heated rivalry, he produced some fireworks for the main show.
Norman was revered by the athletes he cheered on. Basketball player Miroslav Pecarski referred to him as “Mr. Fox”, and Norman thinks he still would call him that today. Norman became acquaintances with Rik Smits, a Marist basketball legend and NBA All-Star, and Dave Magarity, the winningest coach in Marist men’s basketball history.
Even though the costume was extremely hot to wear, Norman enjoyed every second of being the first Marist mascot. “I must have lost 10 pounds every time I was running around each game,” he said, “but it was so much fun I didn’t even think about it. It was a blast.”
Some of King’s favorite times as the mascot was going to non-sports events, both on campus and in Poughkeepsie. She enjoyed dropping her backpack off at McCann after class and strolling to the event as the fox through campus.
“Once, I walked out to go to an event like that, and I didn’t realize I didn’t have my tail on until I was halfway through the parking lot of McCann,” she said. “So, I booked it in these size-15 shoes back into the locker room to go find my tail… That was embarrassing.”
King took serious pride in performing as Shooter and Frankie. Unfortunately for her, the campus shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic muddled the situation and she didn’t get to help train the next Frankie. She doesn’t even know who it is.
What had once been a happenstance opportunity for King turned into a passion. She doesn’t want the future of the mascot to be decided by randomness. “We could make this a little bit more of a thing,” she said. Putting up flyers in freshman dorms and hosting tryouts are a few of her ideas. She wants the job that gave her so much joy to become a more secure and prideful fixture of the college.
Senior year, when she interned in New York City, King approached her bosses at the athletics department to cede her role as Frankie. Some underclassmen told King that being the mascot seemed cool. “One kid said to me, ‘This looks like this would be the most fun job in the entire world,’” she said. “And I just was like, ‘It is.’”
The identity of the Red Foxes seems to be a permanent fixture for Marist. The college primarily uses the colors red and white for its professional branding. Anything else would call for a complete makeover of the identity that’s nearly 60 years old.
Marist, now and into the future, will be known as the Red Foxes, and the fans will have no fear for them as they fight on to victory.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Norman graduated from Marist in 1982. The actual year of his graduation is 1986. The article has been updated.
Edited by Ricardo Martinez and Jonathan Kinane
Photo Credit: Jim Norman