Cy the Cardinal is not just the mascot for Iowa State; he’s a celebrity.
That being said, becoming one of the most famous mascots and “celebrities” in the state of Iowa is no cakewalk.
The students who become Cy are known as the ISU Mascot Squad. The squad is made up of seven dedicated ISU students: one woman and six men.
The character of Cy is assumed 200 days out of the year, including at almost every athletic event. Spirit Squad coach and coordinator Kelli Baker, who oversees the squad, gets to attend these 200 events.
Over the years, the Cy suit has gone through many major transformations from when he first debuted. In 1954, Cy was made mostly from chicken wire and aluminum, which did not allow much movement. Today he is made of thick padding and an outer layer of “teddy bear-like” material that allows a much wider range for movement.
Today’s Cy suit comes in many different parts. There is his menacing head, his muscular padded body, his long yellow bird legs and black soles for the bottom of his feet. The squad has all of these pieces, totaling four complete suits worth thousands of dollars. The suit adds around 30 pounds of weight on the mascot squad member. Many of the members of the squad said it averages 15 degrees hotter inside the suit than outside the suit.
“Imagine going for a jog with a winter coat, gloves, hat, scarf and snow shoes while it’s 80-plus degrees outside with limited visibility,” said Aleksander Poniatowski, a mascot squad member and junior in mechanical engineering.
The general guidelines for an outfit worn in the suit is gym shorts, a T-shirt and some kind of headband that would keep the sweat from going into the mascot wearer’s eyes, such as a bandanna.
When asked about what unique features of Cy posed the most challenges, the squad quickly narrowed it down to two: his very large feet and his enormous head.
“I am a dancer, ” said Austin Riess, junior in pre-business. “You would be amazed how big the feet are and how hard it is to perform basic tasks such as running or dancing.”
Because it is hard for the squad to walk normally in Cy, Baker said they have tried to perfect what they call the “Cy walk,” which is more of a saunter rather than a normal walk.
Cy’s head also creates challenges for the Mascot Squad. The head is strapped on the squad member’s head, much like a helmet people wear when they ride bikes. A simple knock can really jerk the neck of the person inside the suit.
The squad is dedicated to getting Cy right. This summer the squad, along with the cheer squad, went to National Cheerleaders Association Cheer Camp. At camp the squad dominated the competition, winning numerous awards, such as Most Collegiate and Best Overall Mascot. The squad received a bid to go to nationals in April next year.
Baker said the squad will compete against about 20 to 30 different schools at nationals. They will be expected to have a 15 to 20 minute skit for Cy at nationals. The team hopes to build off the experiences of meeting different mascot squads and the techniques they learned at camp.
It doesn’t take long for fans to know that Cy is present on the field or the court because of Cy’s dominant personality.
The squad also works to keep the basic moves of Cy the same, trying to unify his image. However, many of them have their own “trademarks.” Some trademarks include: doing a lot of fist throws, trying to shoot half-court shots during basketball games, acting like the “big shot” or sticking their tongue out when people say “Smile Cy” when they want a photo.
In terms of photos, stopping to take multiple photos can be unproductive for the mascot when they are at an athletic event.
“Just take more than one picture with Cy at a time rather than eight pictures on your phone and your camera,” said Kyle Behrens, junior in agricultural business. “[The squad] can’t be standing around. We have places to be, especially on game days.”
However, photos are not the hardest part of being Cy. Many members said it was when they take off the suit.
“When you get out of the Cy suit, sometimes you forget that you’re out of it,” Riess said.
Their coach voiced a few more challenges.
“Time management in the suit with watching the game, interacting with fans and then time management out of the suit, which they say is the most challenging for them,” Baker said.
Baker and the entire squad agreed that being Cy is exhausting. This is one reason why the squad shares responsibilities on home football games. One member of the squad is Cy for tailgating, and a different person is Cy for each quarter of the game.
With only four suits, the last person has to suit up in a Cy already used that day. Though this is just a unique situation, Cy is cleaned on a regular basis, Baker said.
“Washing does put wear on the suit, and Cy’s head is rarely washed by equipment managers with the Iowa State’s athletic department,” Baker said.
Baker said that if for whatever reason the suit can not be sent to be cleaned, much like football games, the squad lets the suit air-dry, then uses dryer sheets and enormous amounts of Febreze.
“Febreze is like a godsend for mascots,” Baker said.
The members of the squad agreed that Cy’s hygiene is pretty well kept. Only after long days does he really start to smell, or become what they call a “dirty bird.”
If Cy becomes a “dirty bird” at the end of the day, the members of the squad worked hard to accomplish their overall goal: create the Cyclone atmosphere more enjoyable for all fans. It’s hard, sweaty work but the entire squad said it’s worth the smiles, the laughs and the awkward situations they create.
“I am very thankful for all the fans that appreciate Cy and tell us that when we are in the suit,” Riess said. “We as a squad love to hear that we are doing a great job.”
Posted online at iowastatedaily.com Tuesday, October 23, 2012. Published as centerpiece on Tuesday October 23, 2012 Vol. 208 Num. 36 pg. 1 & 3.