Ruff takes the lead on team spirit

Mackenzy Ruff standing next to Cy the mascot on the floor of Hilton Coliseum at Iowa State University
Mackenzy Ruff, sophomore in animal science, is responsible for starting cheers, directing dances and facilitating giveaways at Iowa State University's home basketball games as part of her involvement in Cyclone Alley.

By Amber Friedrichsen

Some students wait outside Hilton Coliseum for hours before Iowa State University men’s and women’s basketball games to guarantee they find good seats in the stands. Other students, like Mackenzy Ruff, get to skip the line and secure a spot in the front row of the student section before everyone else.

Ruff, a sophomore in animal science, is a part of Cyclone Alley. This committee within the Student Alumni Leadership Council comprises 14 members and two co-directors who are the official leaders of the student section in Hilton Coliseum. They start cheers, direct dances and facilitate giveaways at every home basketball game.

On game day, the committee arrives at the arena two hours before the jump ball to set up their supplies. These include pom-poms and rally towels that are distributed to spectators, cardboard cut-outs of players’ faces that surf the crowd, and a large tarp with a university logo that occasionally covers students in the lower level of the bleachers. Then as the tip-off approaches, the committee shifts its focus to the fans.

“It’s really fun when students start to come in and are rushing down the stairs to get to their seats,” Ruff said. “They have been waiting outside for so long and are so pumped up for the game, and that pumps us up as well.”

Ruff’s favorite part of being on Cyclone Alley is painting faces during team warm-ups. Her artwork compliments the cardinal and gold shirts, hats and striped overalls sported by many members of the student section.

In addition to basketball games, Cyclone Alley also attends select wrestling and gymnastic meets. No matter the event, the committee has a responsibility to maintain an appropriate atmosphere. They only initiate positive chants and make sure their materials are handled with respect. 

“We have to control what we can control,” Ruff said. “There is a duty for us to do what is right and help students stay classy and promote the Cyclones the best they can.” 

Ruff joined Cyclone Alley last year after serving on SALC’s First Year Leadership League.

The committee started meeting in April to budget for merchandise and brainstorm new ways to get fans engaged. They continued meeting periodically throughout the summer and then more regularly in the fall until the basketball season began in November.

Ruff is the only member of Cyclone Alley from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. While she is an active member of the Block and Bridle Club, CALS Ambassadors and Collegiate 4-H within the college, being a part of Cyclone Alley has allowed her to branch out and bond with students who have various backgrounds from other colleges.  

“It’s a very different dynamic, but I’ve made a lot of good friends,” she said.

Between basketball games and club commitments, Ruff works as a youth mentor for the Iowa AmeriCorps 4-H program. This organization is in partnership with ISU Extension and Outreach to organize educational activities for youth across the state. She also interned with ISU Extension and Outreach as a K-12 Youth Educator in Clayton County last year and will be the farm relations intern for Midwest Dairy this summer.

Ruff ultimately hopes to pursue a career in agricultural business and communication. She said being on Cyclone Alley has strengthened her leadership skills and will set her apart from other job candidates. She also believes being a fan in the student section is a shared experience for many alumni that could lead to connections in the industry.