Catching up: With our former feathered friends

zelle_blog3

Young Alumni News recently caught up with some young alumni who have a very special thing in common: They were members of the mascot squad during their college years. Read on to find out more about their Cy experiences in honor of the big guy’s big 6-0 this Homecoming. This article was originally published Oct. 1 in the October issue of Young Alumni News, a bimonthly publication of the ISU Young Alumni Council.

Noelle Lichty
lichty_blog1Noelle Lichty (’11 marketing and management) is an assistant manager with Hy-Vee Food Stores in West Des Moines, Iowa who performed as Cy from 2008-2011.

YAN: What initially inspired you decide to try out for the mascot squad?
NL: I have been I huge Cyclone fan my whole life. I grew up traveling to Ames from my hometown Sioux City to attend many Cyclone events. Many of my family members are graduates and now supporters of the Cyclones. My freshman year I was attending a men’s basketball game cheering in Cyclone Alley. I was watching Cy work the crowd. I thought I had enough school spirit and what it takes to be Cy. I jokingly told my friends I wanted to Cy. With a few loudmouths in my friend group, word got around that I was interested. A few weeks later I tried out and made the squad!

What was the most challenging part of being Cy?
The most challenging part of being Cy is that it’s hard work. You start sweating the minute the suit goes on until the minute the suit comes off. People sometimes forget that there is a person inside the suit. Your body definitely takes a beating.

What was your favorite moment(s) as Cy?
It’s hard to name my favorite memory as there are so many. To name a few: traveling with the football team to Texas and being a part of the upset. I will never forget watching all the Texas cheerleaders and dance team members cry after we defeated them. Also, Cy is stored in two massive red bags. When I would carry them from appearance to appearance people would always look at me like I was crazy. I would never disclose I was carrying Cy around but say I had two dead bodies. People really didn’t know what to think.

Did things ever not go as planned while you were in the suit?
When I was Cy Craig Brackins was our big basketball star. The night before the ISU vs. Kansas game at Hilton Coliseum, my friends dared me to chest-bump him during the game. They thought I would never do it. Before the game started the starting players names are called as they come off the bench and the sold out crowd all on there feet cheering as loud as possible. Craig Brackins was always the first name announced. I positioned myself at the end of the player tunnel so I would be the last person Craig met to give a high-five. However, he was not going to receive a high-five from me. His name was called as he made his way down the tunnel toward me. I was in prime chest-bumping position. He reached me and started to leap in the air. I also leaped; however, my leap was not nearly as high as his. Craig’s vertical jump was a tick higher than mine, to say the least. I went up and came back down as he continued to go up. Our timing was off and as I landed on the ground I felt my bird head slip away up over my head. The hot stuffy confined space was no more as fresh air hit my head and light shined in the eyes. The bird head was not on my head. I’m the center of attention of over 14,000 fans in a giant bird suit with no head on. My cover was blown. Everyone saw who was inside one of most popular figures on campus.

The crowd went silent. Craig Brackins finally lands from his leap and, in shock, says “Holy shit! Cy’s a girl.” As I look frantically for the Cy head, it is nowhere in sight. The head had flown across the floor of Hilton Coliseum. I run across the floor to retrieve my costume’s giant red bird head. I quickly put it back on my head and wonder what just happened. Craig comes up to me as I continue to digest the situation. He asked me if I was OK. I stayed on the floor for the rest of pre-game with a detached head. I tried to act as nothing had happened. The minute the game began, I ran to our changing room. The other members of the Cy squad ran after me. In shock of what happened, they calmed me down. All of Hilton Coliseum just saw me, a female, in the masculine mascot suit. My performance throughout the game was extremely awkward because the mascot everyone believed to be a male was in fact a female. I was known around campus and amongst Cyclone fans as the mysterious female Cy. It opened people’s eyes that Cy can be a woman. Women can put on a large suit and act like an idiot for other people’s entertainment. In that game against Kansas, Craig Brackins scored a record number points — 42. The paper’s headline read “Brackins opens Eyes,” with the first sentence mentioning how he knocked off the female mascot’s big red head. I was pictured right underneath.

What was your favorite part of performing?
The best part of being Cy was being able to do whatever you wanted to do. The more crazy and obnoxious, the better. You were always the center of attention.

Photos courtesy Noelle Lichty.

zelle_blog2Ben Zelle
Ben Zelle (’14 ag business and management information systems) is a marketing representative for Deere & Co. who was a member of the ISU mascot squad from December 2011 until he graduated in May 2014.

YAN: What initially inspired you decide to try out for the mascot squad?

BZ: Growing up a Cyclone fan and having loved Cy as a kid, it seemed like a great opportunity to give back and support the Cyclones. I had mascotted once in high school, then served a few years as Iowa Corn Association’s mascot, Captain Corn. The try-outs were posted right before Thanksgiving break, and I was encouraged by a friend to try out. Right after Thanksgiving break, the try-outs were in the indoor football practice field. I figured, “I’ll at least get to try the suit on and say that I did it.” Well, the rest is history.

What was the most challenging part of being Cy?
The physical demands of the mascot suit. Although you adjust to it over time, it is taxing on your body to subject yourself to 30-degree increases in air temperature that could push inside suit temps to easily over 100 degrees. It is also a high-energy demand to provide a consistent experience to fans at every event. No matter if it is your first or 1,000th picture where the camera operator does not have the camera ready (<-please have your camera ready!), there is a need to provide that same Cy experience, so that every Cyclone to come has the same love for our mascot.

What was your favorite moment(s) as Cy?
I have two: National Cheer Association (NCA) Mascot Competition in Daytona Beach, Florida and winning the Big 12 men’s basketball tournament. In 2013, Iowa State participated in NCA nationals for what we believe was the first time in the mascot competition. While we didn’t take home first place, it was a great adventure putting a skit together and then having the opportunity to preform on the Beach Bandshell Stage. Supporting the Iowa State men’s basketball team through the 2014 Big 12 tournament championship was a memorable experience. Cheering from the sidelines as our team showed its true colors and #cycLONEnation came out in full force to support was amazing. I’ll never forget that moment and being on the court while they cut down the nets!

Did things ever not go as planned while you were in the suit?
During basketball season, I was working the crowd at a men’s game during the pregame warm-ups. There was a family that had courtside seats with a young boy. I came onto the floor to give him a high five when he dropped his hot cocoa onto the sidelines. Yikes! I went immediately into ‘customer experience’ mode and ran to the bathroom and got paper towels then into the maintenance room to get a towel with cleaner spray bottle. I ran back (which is difficult with Cy’s big feet) and began cleaning the spill. After getting the floor shined up, I knew there was an opportunity to really change this experience around for the young Cyclone fan. I looked up at the clock to see 15 minutes till tip, then took off up the stairs to the concourse. I grabbed a Hilton staffer on my way and went around to the stand that sold hot cocoa. I then attempted to explain the story and order the drink using all non verbals. (Try that the next time you are ordering something beyond a Clone Cone!) We finally got it worked out, and I carefully walked back down to the court to deliver the drink to the young boy, who had a renewed love for Iowa State’s mascot. While I was exhausted before the players were even announced, it was an awesome example of the impact Cy can have — even when things don’t go as planned.

What was your favorite part of performing?
Making a memorable experience for fans. There is often the opportunity to make or break a fan’s experience. There is literally a few split seconds to make a child cry or love mascots, and we get that experience almost any time we suit up. Making a memorable experience for them like I had growing up is what kept my passion during my tenure as a mascot.

Photos courtesy Ben Zelle.

Zane Brugenhemke
Zane Brugenhemke (’12 athletic training) is a graduate assistant working with the football program at the University of Akron. He suited up as Cy from April 2008-Fall 2012.

YAN: What initially inspired you decide to try out for the mascot squad?

ZB: My love for Iowa State Athletics and the chance to be more than just your average fan.

What was the most challenging part of being Cy?
Toeing the line, I would say. Every game, it seemed we had people complain that Cy did something they didn’t think was appropriate. But honestly, that is kind of Cy’s persona! Cy isn’t always a nice a friendly mascot; he is a bit of a prankster and sort of likes causing a bit of mischief. Some people didn’t always like it, but I found the vast majority always had a laugh if Cy was stealing their purse for a few minutes or stealing their nachos!

What was your favorite moment as Cy?
Winning the Capital One competition in 2008 and being able to go out to L.A. to shoot the commercial.

Did things ever not go as planned while you were in the suit? We know you were involved in an incident at the ISU vs. UConn football game in 2011 where you were injured while falling in the opponents’ student section. The incident was covered by media such as deadspin.com and the ESPN Big 12 football blog, where David Ubben described the situation as an “ugly incident.” Describe the event.
That event has been a very big part of my life. Even now, working here at the University of Akron, people ask me about my scars on my arm and can’t believe the story I tell them. The blunt and honest truth is very far from the story that the press like deadspin.com and David Ubben heard. The UConn press release was really a bunch of frustrating lies. Here is the story as short as I can make it.

ISU had scored and I was in the corner end zone that also had our fans in it. After James White scored the TD, I looked up and saw a UConn fan heckling our fans. I had encountered this before as a mascot, and it is fun to play with opposing fans. I saw this and decided to run up the stairs to where he was standing. At the top of these stairs there was no guard rail on one of the ends. I DID NOT KNOW THIS BEFORE CLIMBING THE STAIRS. I then started shaking my finger just to be playful with the UConn fan and trying to tell him to be nice to us! I then tried to climb over the small guardrail into the stands and I must have placed a hand on him and he didn’t like. So he decided to punch Cy in the face and then push me the rest of the way off the ledge that didn’t have a guard rail. I DID NOT FALL DOWN THE STAIRS ON MY OWN. I WAS PUSHED. I wasn’t in the UConn student section as the UConn press release stated.

I knew right away my arm was broken. I was then taken to the medical room and, in the middle of removing the suit, a UConn policeman burst in asking if I wanted to press charges. I said yes, but I was very busy right now dealing with an arm that was broken in three places and I would talk to them later. I was never contacted by UConn police again, and they conducted the rest of the investigation without ever talking to me.

The rest gets boring and just involves me having surgery the following Sunday in Omaha, Nebraska by Dr. Crabb and his incredible staff. Two plates and 13 screws later I am doing just fine and have a hell of a story to tell.

How has that night changed your perception of mascotting or athletics fan bases in general?
It hasn’t. I will say that I almost hate UConn as much as the Hawkeyes, but I still work in college athletics and see a new fanbase every week. It is all part of being a fan, and that one UConn fan can’t be a representation of fans across America. My assumption is that he was drunk and made some poor decisions, and I honestly probably should have never gone up those stairs in the first place.

What was your favorite part of performing?
The OSU (football) game (in 2011) had to be the greatest moment of my life thus far, and the fact I got to be Cy for that game will be something I always remember.

My first two years and the squad we had with Brent Behrens, Noelle Lichty, and John Shroyer were some of the best of my life. Those guys were some of my best friends, and I have so many fond memories of having some great times with them on and off the field. I really do miss it, even though I thought I wouldn’t after doing it for almost five years. Every time I see Cy now, I am always watching to see how good [he or she is]. Cy is truly one of the best things about ISU, and I am so proud I got to be a small part of his history. Cy truly made my college experience a great one… broken bones and all!

James Ortiz
James Ortiz (’11 chemical engineering) was only a part of the mascot squad for one season (summer-fall 2010), but, he says, “I did have a blast doing it!”

YAN: What initially inspired you decide to try out for the mascot squad?
JO: My cousin was the mascot at Oral Roberts University, “Eli”, the Golden Eagle… Was hoping ISU and ORU would meet someday…

What was the most challenging part of being Cy?
Trying to keep mascotting fresh. I was always trying to think of different things I could do that would entertain fans/little kids, without being too repetitive. Also, pesky kids pulling my tail was challenging.

What was your favorite moment as Cy?
Crowd-surfing up the student section.

Did things ever not go as planned while you were in the suit?
Once I wore a bandana that would come loose during pictures and walking around the tailgates before the game. It’s tough getting around in the suit when you’re blind!

What was your favorite part of performing?
I really liked feeling like I was an important part of the gameday experience: Messing around with kids, taking pictures with fans at the tailgates, and giving the football players high fives after the games. It was a lot of fun! I only wish that I would have gotten involved earlier in my college career! It really was a blast.

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