By Rachel Houng and Tina Torre
Matthew Zatz has been the gladiator since he was a freshman at New Hyde Park Memorial High School. He traipsed around the school, adorning the costume as he repped the school mascot at various events. However, few students know how he became the Gladiator.
Q: How did you become the Gladiator?
Matthew Zatz: It was actually a pretty crazy story, even a little bit random. When I was in the 9th grade, I was the student council historian and heavily involved in planning school-wide events. At the time, student council was planning the Blue-and-White Dance for the seventh graders and Voss said, “Does anyone want to be the Gladiator?” and I remember, I think it was like the first VP at the time, Bryan Lo, who went in it for like 10 minutes and took it off because it was too hot or something. Then, Voss was like “Does anyone else want to give it a shot?” so I gave it a shot, I ended up loving it, and I had a great time in the suit. She goes, “You know it’s yours now if you want till you graduate.” From then on, she called me anytime that we had homecoming or pep rally; I was always your go-to guy for that.
Matthew Zatz’ brother, alumnus Mitchell Zatz, was an extremely involved individual in the New Hyde Park community. Matthew Zatz provided insight on his brother’s influence.
Q: Did your brother’s involvement in school influence you?
MZ: I would say it was more my pursuit of student government that helped get the position as Gladiator. I guess you could say my brother helped me get involved in school and all that, but it was mainly getting involved, going into student government and then becoming the mascot.
Zatz describes the logistics behind the costume, diving into the intricacies of his routine putting on the costume to the fan in the costume.
Q: What is it like actually putting on the costume?
MZ: The costume itself is a lot less complicated than it looks. It only has four parts to it: a really long shirt, a silver thing that wraps around my neck, a cape which I just tie and the head. That’s literally it. I can probably go to the bathroom in it. There’s been times where the vision out of the thing is very very limited, and it has decreased over the years. Every time I put the head on, I feel like more and more of my vision is being taken away. I don’t know how that happens, but it’s pretty funny. I can’t bend down in that thing very easily, and there's been times where I’ve had friends of mine tie my shoes. It’s not too difficult to put on. I do need someone else to velcro some of the stuff that’s behind me so I always make sure there’s someone to velcro. It can get itchy, the fabric is very irritating so when that is against my skin that does irritate me. I’ve actually learned that from experience, whenever I’m the mascot now I always make sure to keep a shirt with me… to tie it around my neck.
Q: What does it feel like in the costume? Is there a fan?
MZ: It is incredibly hot, it gets very humid. There is a fan, but I have yet to learn how to use it.
Q: Do they wash the costume?
MZ: Not to my knowledge. They might wash the cape and some of the other stuff, but I don’t think they wash the helmet.
Tina Torre: I thought they went to get it dry-cleaned but I’m not sure.
MZ: They might, I might be wrong about that - I’m actually not 100% sure.
Zatz has attended many different events which led to his revelation of how important the Gladiator’s role truly is to the school.
Q: What events have you attended in the gladiator costume?
MZ: I’ve done different events - pep rally, homecoming, the Blue-and-White dance. During the spring of COVID 2020, there were a lot of drive-bys for the senior class where they took photos with the Gladiator.
Source by Areej Zaidi
Matthew Zatz' grand reveal permitted him to take off the stuffy Gladiator head, flaunting about the gym during winter pep rally.
Q: What was your favorite experience as the Gladiator?
MZ: It might have been a football game or homecoming, I forget which one - definitely a football game though. I was down on the track and the cheerleaders were near me, and they asked me if they could raise me up like a cheerleader. I was very nervous, but it was a basic pose where I went on two of their knees. I was very nervous that I would fall, but it was crazy how wild the crowd went over that.
Q: What was one of your most memorable mishaps as the Gladiator?
MZ: I needed someone to help me velcro the stuff in the back. I was getting dressed for something, this year's Winter Pep Rally, there was nobody in student activities to help dress me. I don't remember who, but I grabbed a random student from the hallway who was at lunch. And I think he was just using the bathroom. And I'm like, “Yo, come here, I need your help with something.” And so I told him to just velcro the back of it. And I'm like, “Don't worry.” He was like, “What do you want me to do?” He was getting all nervous and I was like, “Relax bro. I just need you to velcro this." It was kind of a funny story.
Q: When did you realize the importance of your job as the Gladiator?
MZ: I don’t think I realized the importance until I had multiple experiences as the Gladiator. When I first went into the costume, I was in the ninth grade, and it was at the seventh graders’ Blue-and-White dance. After that, I think the next time I put it on was the COVID drive-by for the Class of 2020. It was at that point where I realized, I'm this little ninth grader who's saying goodbye to the entire class. They had just picked up their cap and gown, drove by me, took a picture and went home. I'm like, “what?” It just kind of flipped. The mascot, the representative of the building, it's what the school represents. I was being that representation of the school. They made me feel like I had a duty to represent the school in a positive, uplifting, energetic manner. That was my job to make everybody happy, to get people excited - that's what we want.
Source from Natalie Bak
Jarrel Tondreau takes a BeReal with Matthew Zatz during the first fall pep rally of the 2022 school year.
Zatz’ role has become more pertinent since students returned to school as he has noticed a drop in student involvement.
Q: What are some similarities and differences between pre-COVID and post-COVID?
MZ: I’ve definitely seen a drop in school spirit over the past few years. I do think COVID enacted that because in the two years that we were in COVID, most of the seventh and eighth graders were in their first two years of high school. Their first two years of high school were supposed to be when the upperclassmen got younger classmen involved while the upperclassmen were officers in clubs and enticed them into becoming active. As a result of COVID, things are very different - students just are not as involved - it’s not their fault it’s just that the opportunities during those two years were virtual and not very fun, despite the fact that we tried our best.
Zatz thoroughly enjoyed the different phases of his career as the mascot, experiencing a range of experiences from interrogation to high-fives. He provides insight on these experiences.
Q: How would you describe the differences between when people knew who you were and when they did not?
MZ: When I first put it on, I was a young freshman and no one really knew who I was yet. People would suspect me. As I’ve been doing it for a few years now, word has gotten around, I’ve told a few people because it’s a little hard to keep it a secret sometimes. I’ve had people have come up to me with pictures of my sneakers telling me that these are the same sneakers saying, “You’re definitely the gladiator.” I’m like, “it’s a pair of sneakers my friend, anyone can have this pair.” It was funny because I’d be walking around a football field for example and someone would say, “Matthew give me a high-five, they would know it’s me.” It’s a little different because it’s no more of the “who’s behind the mask-type feel;” everyone knew it was me.
Q: Did you prefer when people knew who you were or now?
MZ: I’d say when people didn't know who I was because that led to a lot more of a suspicious, mysterious feel to it. I remember when I was doing one of those drivebys with the senior class (Class of 2020) - they were collecting their caps and gowns or something. So many people were like “Who are you? Who is this? Do I know who this is?” I just kept doing the shoulder shrug because the Gladiator’s not supposed to speak technically. Or I don’t know, I just always thought I wasn’t supposed to speak. It was a lot more entertaining just because no one knew who I was - it’s a weird feeling to describe. It’s almost like you can do whatever you want with no one judging you because no one knows and it’s a great feeling.
Source by Anna Detke
Zatz is supported by his bandmates to help him play the drums upside down during homecoming, balancing both band and his duties as the gladiator.
Zatz is heavily involved within the school community and discusses how he has learned to balance his different roles and passions.
Q: What other programs at New Hyde Park have you been involved in? Has being the Gladiator helped you get involved?
MZ: I would definitely say the Gladiator helped me become more involved in things because even though I was already an outgoing, involved person, it gave me a confidence boost to being involved and being out there. I’ve worked my way up to co-president of Key Club, and I’ve been heavily involved in Best Buddies and Center Stage. I’m heavily involved in the Spanish Club and the music department. I love playing an instrument and being in the jazz band, the concert band, the pep band and all that fun stuff. The Drama Club, I love performing on stage doing musicals. It’s a lot of fun. I do the junior fire department so I’m a volunteer firefighter outside of school. It’s a lot of fun, but a lot of work. I’m meeting a lot of new people, it’s a good community service thing to do. It’s not with the school so I can do it after I graduate which is very nice.
Q: How did you balance being the Gladiator and performing in the marching band?
MZ: That was not easy. There was a lot of going to Miss Bagley, the band director, and telling her that I have to be the mascot. It was also going to Voss and telling her that I have to be in the marching band. I remember splitting up my time the best that I could, I would rarely choose one over the other. For example, for homecoming, I would always march with the band. So I'd march from the block behind Lakeville with the band all the way to the high school. And then once we got to the high school and played the National Anthem, I would bring my drum inside and get changed to the mascot. I'd be out around the middle of the first, maybe sort of the second quarter. So I always did my best to make sure I got both of them.
Zatz speaks of his future plans in both the near and distant future.
Q: What are some of your future plans?
MZ: I'm going to be majoring in communications at Oneonta. The dream is to become a sports announcer. I want to be that voice that plays when you put on the game. It's a very, very competitive field, but I'm very passionate about it. You know, I've done announcing at the school for a while and I really hope that works out. If that doesn't work out, or if I just lose interest in it, my second plan is to become a teacher. I worked as a camp counselor this summer and a lot of people have told me how I'm great with kids, and that I would make a great teacher. So I'm definitely keeping teaching as I guess a plan B.
Q: Do you think you will do something similar to being the mascot in college or be involved in other activities similar to those you did in high school?
MZ: I don’t know about becoming a mascot in college but I definitely do feel myself being that outgoing, excited person in the stands. In terms of marching band, I’m going to SUNY Oneonta in the fall and Oneonta does have a drumline so I probably will wind up considering trying out for the drumline, which would be very, very cool. It's always something I've wanted to do. It's one of the things that I think NHP is actually starting next year, if I'm not mistaken. I might be wrong about that. They're starting a district, like a competitive district marching band. I've always wanted to join a competitive marching band. A drum line is basically the same thing, but just drummers, which is going to be really cool. So I'm very excited to possibly be involved in it.
Zatz reminisces about his experience doing the announcements during the hybrid year in addition to discussing what he will miss the most about NHP.
Q: What was it like doing the announcements?
MZ: It was very fun. That would probably be a highlight in the highlight reel of my high school career. I think it was 10th grade and believe it or not that's when we had cohort A and were hybrid. I was one of the highest ranking student council members on day B. And because of that, we were as announcements. I did that and it was just boring, all I did was the pledge of allegiance and there was nothing going on. There were no announcements to make about club events or anything like that. I decided to do the fun fact in the riddle, they caught 80% of the school’s attention every morning. It didn't really occur to me how big of an impact it made until people would come up to me and tell me how much they loved it. During that time, it didn't occur to me that 30 seconds in the morning everyday or every other day could be an escape for people, especially the whole COVID, vaccines, it was like... it was so much. I remember one of my friends telling me that every morning that their class would spend the first five minutes talking and trying to figure out the riddle. It's not thinking about anything else which... I felt very good creating that experience for a lot of people during those times. I did the announcements last year from like September till about, I think October-ish because there was no student council president who was supposed to do them yet. So that was then a fun fact of a riddle every day.
Q: Did you have permission to ask like the very first fun factor riddle or was it just spontaneous?
MZ: I think it was spontaneous “Oh, let me try and do this.” But once the announcements started including school events, my time on the loudspeaker was getting very lengthy. So there was actually a time where I was starting before 8 a.m. I would start at like 7:57 a.m. and then when the bell rang at 8, I would do the pledge. I don't think I actually asked to do it. I only think I did it because there was nothing else going on. It just sounded boring. And I remember people for me would do like the word of the day or positive quotes. So I just thought I could do something along those lines.
Q: What will you miss the most about New Hyde Park? Will you miss being the Gladiator?
MZ: I will definitely miss being the Gladiator. It’s definitely been a fun experience but on the other hand, as I’m growing up, I’m ready to pass down the gladiator head to somebody else. One thing I’m gonna miss at New Hyde Park is the people, not even just with the student body, but with the teachers as well. For example, Voss - the events coordinator, Mrs. Bocchino - the adviser of Key Club, Mr. Monat and the other people in the music department and other people I’ve worked with for the past 6 years. I definitely will miss all of them and all of the opportunities that they’ve enabled for students at NHP that have made people like me motivated to want to be involved and it’s been amazing during my experience at New Hyde Park.
Zatz encourages other underclassmen to put themselves out there in the New Hyde Park community, discussing how much fun he had and his desire to pass the baton.
Q: Would you encourage other people to be the mascot, like underclassmen?
MZ: I would definitely encourage people to be the mascot. It is very fun. It teaches you self-confidence. You have to be out there. You have to get the crowd really hyped up. It's a very, very important job, but I would definitely recommend it to people who are not shy, who don't mind putting themselves out there. When you are hyping people up, all eyes are on you.
Q: What advice do you have for the future Gladiator?
MZ: Being the Gladiator is very very fun, what we do is to hype up the crowd. You have to get everyone excited. Sometimes, it’s not easy. There was one time where I was really trying to get people riled up and ready to go - it was not working at all and I thought I was making a complete fool out of myself. I guess my advice is to be confident in whatever you do. When I first put the mask on, it was a lot of fun because during my first few times nobody knew who I was behind the mask. That was one of the best things I remember. Four years later, people know who I am. Overall, it doesn’t matter if people know who you are or they don’t know who you are, your job is to hype up the crowd. You are chosen out of the entire school to be the mascot and that’s just what you gotta do.
Q: Do you have any other comments about your time as the Gladiator?
MZ: Definitely sad. I'm definitely going to miss it. I loved being in the costume. But at the same time, I've done it for over four years. I’m ready to pass it down to somebody else who's young. The new ninth grade version of me will take it over and will be just as successful. But yeah, I like to think that during my time here, I did my best to get everybody pumped up and motivated, not just in the stands, but in general. And I like to think that I think I did a good job of that.