by Hannah McClung
J335 Fall ’10
Car horns blared and people shouted as he made his way to a groundbreaking event for the University of Wisconsin-Hillel. The trek started at Witte Hall and ended near the lake where the organizers of the event wanted Bucky Badger to be part of the festivities. As the ceremony started, a small microphone inside a 30-pound fiberglass badger head was picking up the faint sounds of panic.
“I don’t know what’s going on, I don’t know what’s going on…people are looking at me,” Sam Rhyan, UW-Madison senior and Bucky Badger mascot, said of his first Bucky event. Rhyan was recording his first experience in the Bucky suit for the documentary “Being Bucky.”
“The first time I was in the suit I was obviously terrified,” said Rhyan. “There was no changing site so I ended up changing in Witte Hall and the producers of the documentary were still finishing up their piece so I was documenting what was going on in my mind. I was extremely overwhelmed.”
Rhyan, who often jokes about being born ready to be a mascot, was not always as outgoing. He was on the tennis team, joined student council and bagged groceries in his hometown of Mequon, Wis.
“I was definitely less involved [in high school] than I am here. I wasn’t really that ‘it’ kid,” Rhyan said.
Coming to UW-Madison was almost a given for Rhyan because of the emotional connection with the campus and the student life.
“I grew up going to Badger games. I think I missed only 10 or 15 in my life,” said Rhyan. “I like the social side of the school and the balance the student body has. We work hard Monday through Friday but still have fun on the weekends and still celebrate why we love this school.”
Throughout his time at the University of Wisconsin, Rhyan has made contacts with a lot of people, many of which are atop the University’s administrative chain of command.
“Sam’s personality makes him an ideal contributor to and representative of the student body. He is academically talented, thoughtful, funny, playful, compassionate, engaging, and respectful of traditions while equally creative of them,” UW-Madison Chancellor Carolyn “Biddy” Martin said in an e-mail.
“Sam is a magnet and exudes charisma and energy! He also demonstrates his ownership of the [student] organization’s [he’s in] and the campus by contributing to it and facilitating changes as needed,” UW-Madison Dean of Students Lori Berquam said in an e-mail.
Becoming Bucky Badger was a natural outlet for Rhyan’s dedication to the University and its traditions
“I had a good friend on the dance team who helped me train for the audition,” said Rhyan. “We would spend nights in the den of our floor in Witte Hall, doing dance auditions and practicing with random props from people’s rooms.”
“Sam’s [audition] skit was very good, he spoke well, was very personable, and seemed to really love the University,” said Josette Scheer, director of the University of Wisconsin Spirit Squad. “Mascots can be a little crazy and wild but Sam is level-headed and has a lot of common sense.”
Although Rhyan enjoys basketball as a spectator, as Bucky “there’s nothing like being at Camp Randall, it’s an incredible atmosphere,” Rhyan said.
“When you’re running out to the middle of the field with the flag you can’t see anything, you’re almost going to hit the tubas, it’s 95 degrees outside and 140 degrees inside the suit, the student section is screaming at you looking for a reason to get pumped up, you just have to try to get your arms above your head even though you can’t breathe or function because you just sprinted 100 yards in a fury suit.”
Rhyan acknowledges the pressure that goes along with being Bucky but embraces the challenge.
“When you get into the suit nothing that you were thinking about before goes in there with you,” Rhyan said. “When you’re up on that board in front of 80 thousand fans you’re not going to stop because you’re tired, you’re going to keep on going no matter what.”
Rhyan’s favorite Bucky event, the late-night Target shopping trip for students during Wisconsin Welcome Week, sums up some of the best aspects of being Bucky.
“I had complete free reign of a Super Target. I was biking around the store, jumping in boxes, covering myself in pillows. As Bucky, anyone will let you do anything in the state of Wisconsin,” Rhyan said.
Along with the weekly Bucky events, Rhyan is a campus tour guide, a co-director of the UW chapter of Health Occupation Students of America, the Director of the marketing team for the UW-Madison Homecoming Committee and volunteers weekly at the UW Children’s Hospital.
Rhyan will be graduating in May with a Medical Microbiology and Immunology degree and a certificate in Global Cultures and one in Leadership. Rhyan hopes to spend two years with Teach for America after graduation.