"It was tense," DiJulia recalled. "It's easier to replace me than the Hawk."
So DiJulia began lobbying. Hard.
"I know this sounds weird," he told his fellow athletic directors, "but we have a unique situation at St. Joe's. I'd like a waiver for the Hawk."
They looked at him sideways. Are you serious? In his passionate plea, DiJulia argued that the Hawk was not just some run-of-the-mill mascot.
The pulse of the school beat beneath those feathers.
The Hawk hadn't missed a basketball game since the day he was hatched: Jan. 4, 1956. He serves as a team manager. He dresses with the players. He has his own locker. He sits in on strategy sessions. He is part of the inner sanctum, and keeps his beak shut when it comes to team matters.
He's on full scholarship, for crying out loud.
After DiJulia desperately detailed the Hawk's history and tradition, the athletic directors granted the Hawk a waiver. He's the only mascot in the conference permitted at road games.
"The Hawk was dead for two hours," DiJulia said, a twist on the school slogan, "The Hawk will never die."
Relieved, DiJulia returned to campus and relayed his harrowing day to the university's president, the Rev. Nicholas S. Rashford.
"You're lucky," Father Rashford told him. "Very lucky."
Tomorrow, when St. Joe's faces Auburn in a first-round NCAA tournament game at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Fla., Steve Klarich will lead the Hawks onto the court for the 60th time.
Klarich, a senior food-marketing major from Philadelphia's Mayfair section, is the 26th Hawk in school history.
It won't take long before the spectators notice some unique things about the Hawk.
During time-outs, he sprints through figure eights across the floor. And he never stops flapping his wings. Never. He must flap from the time he leads the team onto the court to the time he returns to the locker room after the game. He must flap even during halftime. There is no rest for a weary Hawk.
If he stops?
"I don't know," Klarich said. "I assume they shoot you."
He learned early on that it takes a tough bird to become the Hawk. The competition is fierce, the job description strenuous.
Klarich had been the drummer in the student section his sophomore year, so his loyalty and fervor were undeniable. Looking for a candidate to succeed her, Sarah Brennan, the Hawk for the 2000-01 season and the first woman to don the costume, urged him to apply.
"I told Sarah there was no way I could flap my arms that much," he said.
But when Klarich told his father he had a chance to become the Hawk, Tim Klarich sternly advised him that this was an opportunity he couldn't pass up.
Tim Klarich is a St. Joe's graduate. He knows.
"So I applied and one thing led to another," Klarich said.
The process began. Klarich was up against about a dozen candidates. First, he had to write an essay for DiJulia explaining why he was the best candidate. Then he had to go before a committee called the Hawk Board.
The members of the committee "wanted to know how I'd handle it if I was attacked by another mascot; what separates me from other candidates; if I could withstand the physical effort; if I was in shape," Klarich said.
"Of course, I lied and told them I was in shape," he said.
Next was a one-on-one interview with the head coach, Phil Martelli. "Coach Martelli has to be comfortable with whoever is the Hawk," he said.
Two months went by, and Klarich heard nothing. "I figured I got rejected," he said.
Klarich was at a South Philadelphia deli, working as a summer intern for a food company, when the memorable phone call came. It was Martelli, congratulating the new Hawk.
"I was so shocked, I didn't know what to say," Klarich recalled.
He debuted as the Hawk that summer as part of a promotion at a Camden Riversharks baseball game.
"I'd told myself I better start working out, but that never happened," Klarich said. "I'm there with a bunch of mascots at the Riversharks game. I'm flapping away. After about five minutes, my shoulders are insanely hurting. I told myself, "What was I thinking?' "
Tradition was at stake, so with the season approaching, Klarich figured it was time to get serious about taking flight. He had to work his way up to three straight hours of flapping.
He flapped while watching television. He flapped while studying. Within two weeks, he was up to three hours. Oh, yes, the partial scholarship he had earned as a top student from La Salle High School was now a full scholarship.
"A nice perk to the job," he said with a smile.
Klarich the Hawk made his season debut nearly 3,000 miles away, at the University of California, in a game against Eastern Washington. The game wasn't televised, there were no cheerleaders, and the arena was nearly empty. So he had all the time-outs to himself.
"Every time-out, I'm pumping out three figure eights," he said. "My throat was on fire. After that game, I think I used a half tube of Ben-Gay. I'd never been in so much pain."
These two seasons, Klarich has done the Hawk proud. He has endured taunts, survived debris thrown at him, and coolly handled jostling from other mascots. At St. Bonaventure last season, he had to be led off the floor by security workers.
The students "were throwing stuff at me, chanting 'Kill the bird,' trying to pull off my feathers," he said. "Those people are nuts."
At Temple, there was nearly an incident with Hooter the Owl, who bear-hugged the Hawk from behind, trying to stop him from flapping. The Hawk fought him off with a well-placed elbow. Hooter was ejected. The Hawk almost lost it. The team chaplain, Father Cornell Bradley, gave him a warning.
The Hawk plays hurt. The Friday before a home game against Rhode Island this season, Klarich broke his hand playing hoops. Undeterred, he was in full flap the next day. "The painkillers helped get me through," he said.
There have been warm moments. At this season's game at Gonzaga, a Gonzaga player approached the Hawk with a handful of feathers. "I think you dropped something," he said. Fans have their photos taken with the Hawk. Children ask for his autograph.
Being the Hawk has other benefits. Klarich already has a job as a sales representative lined up after graduation. "The Hawk is on my resume," he said. "When I walked in for the interview, a woman who interviewed me stood up and started flapping. They know the Hawk stands for commitment, loyalty and passion."
Asked if he had an easier time getting dates since he became the Hawk, Klarich paused. "Let's just say girls think the Hawk is cool," he said.
Contact staff writer Ray Parrillo at 215-854-2743 or firstname.lastname@example.org.