AMES, Iowa -- If you heard Gloria Steinem speak last fall at Stephens, you probably didn’t know that the guy introducing her was Cy. Or, if you read the latest issue of Ethos magazine, it’s unlikely you recognized the editor pictured was Cy. And if you went to a Grandma Mojo’s Moonshine Revival improv show at the Maintenance Shop, chances are, it didn’t even cross your mind that one of the performers was Cy.
'Fess up, Cyclone Nation. We like to think that between games and matches and tailgates and banquets, Cy resides in a cozy penthouse atop Hilton Coliseum. After all, it’s tough to believe that our beloved mascot's duties are fulfilled by a mere mortal student.
And, not to take the air out of anyone’s football or anything, but sooner or later that student is bound to graduate.
This graduating Cy is Traer Schon, more mega student than mere mortal. The Cyclone kid from Glidden wouldn’t even let his black and gold markers be next to each other in their box. Ergo, born to be Cy.
But when Schon walks across the field at Jack Trice Stadium on Saturday, he’ll don his cap and gown — not his cherished Cy costume. Schon will graduate with honors from Iowa State University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications and a minor in Spanish.
Schon’s box score looks something like this: Dean’s List – seven semesters (as of this writing), University Honors Program – four years, Cy Mascot – four years and squad co-captain, two years, Ethos Magazine editor-in chief – three years, Greenlee School student advisory board – three years, Grandma Mojo’s Moonshine Revival improv troupe – two years, World and National Affairs University Lectures planning committees – two years, ISUtv reporter – three semesters. And, when not being Cy at summer events, Schon interned at the Hy-Vee communications department and Screenscape Studios, worked in the Honors Program office and studied Spanish in Costa Rica.
“I see activities as an equal part of my education,” Schon said. “In journalism, experience matters, sometimes as much as academics. I’ve tried to balance it all.”
But it all started with Cy. And Schon won a spot on the ISU Mascot Squad while still a senior at Glidden Ralston High School.
Taking a risk
Being Cy was always in the back of his mind. Schon grew up in a “100 percent” Cyclone family that bleeds cardinal and gold (parents, sisters, and even some cousins are alumni). And he played on his high school basketball, baseball and track teams, but he was school mascot during football. Already aspiring to be Cy.
“In April of senior year, it was just luck that I happened to see online that Cy try-outs were that coming Saturday,” Schon said.
With an assist from his sister, he prepared a required audition skit. His told the story of Cy preparing to go on a date with Cyclone Nation, then dancing to “I Will Always Love You.”
“It was pretty intimidating. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I’m very glad I did it,” he said. “I was so excited to learn the same day that I made the squad.”
It never gets old
At the close of his fourth year as Cy, Schon never tired of events, fans or the (seemingly endless) request for hugs and selfies. Far from it, in fact. After all, Iowa State fans are “in a good mood most of the time” and everyone loves Cy. One thing is for certain, he said, “everything has a distinctive quality.”
“There’s always a unique situation, no matter what the setting is. Simply because you’re plopping a giant bird in the middle of it,” Schon said.
He feared for his life only once: Recess at an elementary school.
“A mob of kids came running to the playground, nearly falling over each other to get to Cy. I ran and they ran after me, screaming. I tried to get it under control, but you really can’t with a bunch of screaming first graders mobbing you,” he laughed.
Then there’s the odd event when Schon steps back and asks himself, “How did I get here?” The college-mascot grape stomp at the Iowa State Fair, for example. (They do cover their feet with garbage bags before the squishing commences —in case you were wondering.)
Yet, the appearances at hospitals and retirement communities, and visits with fans who have special needs or developmental disabilities, are “really cool experiences because you can connect with people in such a unique way,” Schon said.
During Big 12 Media Days, Mascot Stampede and the NCA Collegiate Nationals mascot competition (where Cy recently placed third, his highest ever), Schon got to know his mascot counterparts from across the country.
“Getting to know other mascots is one of my favorite parts. We have a whole network based on this thing we have in common,” he said. “You make lots of friends.”
He’s “lucked out” and mascotted at the last three Big 12 Tournaments in Kansas City, where the pre-game pep rallies “blow me away. It’s amazing,” he said.
“It’s one of my favorite events. There’s such a strong, fun energy — thousands of Cyclone fans together singing and cheering,” Schon said.
And sometimes, he just has to pinch himself.
“Last summer I did the coaches’ tailgate tour on the bus. It was surreal. I thought ‘I’m just a senior in college who puts on a bird costume.’ It’s very cool to be a part of this,” he said.
When he’s Cy at an athletic event, Schon said, “Nothing else in college is like this, where you can really just be in the moment.”
“It’s so much fun. Once I’m Cy, I don’t think about anything else, not papers or exams or responsibilities. Whatever was on my mind just melts away. It sounds cliché, but it’s true. You really are in the zone,” he said.
“It’s such strange a thing to think about walking around in this giant bird costume. But you really connect with people in special ways. Everyone loves you and that’s kind of an ego boost. When a kid comes up to you and says, ‘Cy, you’re my best friend,’ that can’t be replicated by anything else,” Schon said.
“It’s energizing. There is so much positivity. ISU fans are such a great community — very passionate and proud,” he said.
“Sometimes it gets kind of routine. But then I step back and realize I get to be Cy, who I always watched when I was a little kid. That is one big highlight,” he said.
Schon will begin his career in journalism with a bit of a heavy heart.
"It's not going to be easy to say goodbye because it will leave a big hole," he said. "Being Cy is such a fun job."