On the border between Wisconsin and Michigan sits Iron County, Michigan. Iron County is home to miles of snow mobile trails, a tight-knit community, and a vast amount of Iron ore. This is the norm for most of Michigan’s Upper peninsula. However, Iron County is the only county where you’ll find a Wykon.
“What the heck is a Wykon?” you may ask yourself, and we don’t blame you. Before this project, nobody on our staff had heard of such a thing. A Wykon is a three-legged mythological creature made over 50 years ago by Floyd Carlson, Donald MacDonald, and Brandon Giovanelli. All were members of the West Iron County faculty, and at the time, the county was being consolidated. Bates Township School, Iron River Public School, and Stambaugh Township schools were being combined under the West Iron County Public Schools system. As a result of this merger, a new mascot was needed. Giovanelli, an art teacher at the then Stambaugh High School, used his experience to create what we’re left with today.
In the 1980’s this drawing was brought to life in the form of a mascot costume. West Iron County definitely got the max life expectancy out of it, as this mascot costume was used for over 40 years. However, towards the tail end of those years, the mascot costume was deteriorating to the point where it was rarely used. It finally met its end in 2022, when the mascot costume attended a parade celebrating hometown hero, Nick Baumgartner.
The original mascot costume served the community well for many decades, but now it was time to retire it. Enter Kevin Schmutzler, Superintendent of West Iron Public Schools. Kevin headed up the project of getting his district a new mascot costume. Soon after taking on this project, he found our company. The process had officially begun!
Kevin explained to us the significance behind the Wykon, and why his county deserved to have a mascot that honored their history. Like many schools, he needed something that could be used all year round, and that children would be excited to interact with. However, the West Iron Wykon was unlike anything else that had been designed before. It looked like mythological cross between a lion and a dragon. Something that we had yet to come across in our over 45+ years of mascot making experience.
Nevertheless, we started sketching up some ideas. In the meantime, Kevin started to work on fundraising. Like many schools, funding for projects outside the typical new books or new art supplies is hard to come by. Kevin knew that some of the money for this new Wykon mascot was going to have to come from somewhere outside the school district’s budget. After reviewing all of his options, 2 different sources of outside funding emerged.
West Iron County’s Athletic booster club was able to finance half of the cost of the mascot. This investment meant that the booster club was now engaged in the project. Their reputation and reach in the school district would prove extremely valuable when it came to rallying support for a new mascot.
At this point, Kevin had the design, the funding, and the support behind making the school’s mascot dream come true. Now all that was needed to do was decide how they were going to reveal the new mascot. It just so happened that their new Wykon mascot would be finished in time for West Iron’s homecoming women’s basketball game against the school’s neighbor and biggest rival, Forest Park. If West Iron could pair a hard-fought victory with the reveal of their new mascot, they would be sure to make headlines.
With the date decided on, arrangements for the actual event itself needed to be made. They immediately got the school’s art teacher, Mrs. Porier, involved. She would be responsible for making the banner the Wykon would run through. Lights in the gym would be off, creating complete darkness. A spotlight would be setup to direct the crowd’s attention to the banner. A Lion’s roar would be played at peak of a hype up song. Then the Wykon would burst through the banner with the basketball team running onto the court shortly after.
Now that the reveal’s details were ironed out, it was time to get the community hyped up. The best way to do this was to get them involved. A competition to decide the official name of the Wykon was started. Students were given one week to come up with ideas and whichever got the most votes would win. The student who suggested the winning name would receive access to “The best seats in the house” for the homecoming game and a gift certificate for the school store. These seats were built by the school’s building/trade class and consisted of 2 recliners on platform built on top of the bleachers.
To promote maximum attendance, the school also announced that any kids dressed in the school’s blue and white colors would get in the game for free. They also held an audition for students to be the mascot performer. Students that applied were shown our handy dandy “How to Perform as a Mascot” video to give them some pointers. Finally, they had their video productions class put together a highlight reel that focused on the history behind the Wykon.
Eventually, the time came to reveal the mascot. The student mascot performers were selected, the mascot costume was ready to go, and the bleachers were PACKED. All the community’s hard work was about to pay off. Ladies and Gentlemen, we’d like to introduce you to “Westy” the Wykon:
Success! Everything went according to plan! The mascot looked fantastic, the presentation was sublime, and the community was ecstatic. As a little cherry on top, West Iron County proceeded to DOMINATE the court against their rival.
In conclusion, we’d like how much we appreciate the uniqueness of Westy Wykon and the community that surrounds him. It’s not every day we get to learn the background and see the behind the scenes of one of our mascots. It’s always a pleasure to work with our neighbors up North, but working with Kevin and West Iron County Schools was an extremely rewarding experience for us. If you’re ever up in there neck of the woods, we recommend stopping by the school for a game or two. You may just see the legendary Wykon in the wild!
Engage and involve the entire school & the community. Get creative and be collaborative. It’s really for them anyway.
Find the right people to be in the suit, and spend time training them how to perform as the mascot. Getting the suit is just the beginning. It’s really about how it gets seen and used for years to come. Start with small performances, and let the people in the suit get comfortable and creative for longer and more frequent performances.
You get what you pay for. Find a reputable company that offers a solid history of quality material and craftsmanship. Create a mascot design that is fun & inviting, and not scary or creepy to children. Something that everyone can support and enjoy, comfortable and creative for longer and more frequent performances.