Surprise! University of Miami grad reveals herself as Sebastian the Ibis mascot — and fans go wild
Last week, Madison Clinger finally got the chance to reveal a secret she's been closely guarding for three years.
Dressed in fluffy yellow boots, the recent University of Miami graduate hopped across the stage and led the crowd of thousands in one final "C-A-N-E-S" cheer.
The riotous performance officially revealed Clinger as the first woman to portray Sebastian the Ibis, Miami's iconic school mascot. It also shocked many of the Fort Myers native's closest friends, who were unaware of her feathered alter ego.
"It's a big secret on campus to protect Sebastian's identity," Clinger said. "At graduation everyone was like, 'How could I not know?' To be inundated with so much love and support was unexpected."
Clinger began costuming at age 14, dressing up as "Little Zach," the mascot for Zaxby's, after her mother, Rusti Clinger, opened the chain's first location in Southwest Florida in 2014.
"If you own a family business and need someone to step in, it's your own kid who gets the chicken costume," said Rusti Clinger. "It was surprising to see how much she took it. The rest is history."
Madison, a standout softball player, helped Bishop Verot High win a state championship in 2016. She also dressed up as the school's mascot, "Victor the Viking".
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In Miami, Clinger formed the exclusive sophomore team that serves as the university's costumed ambassador. She then spent the next three years juggling creative excuses for not attending Miami's football tailgates or sitting in the stands with her fraternity sisters during games.
Madison Clinger, dressed as Sebastian the Ibis, poses with her Fort Myers parents John and Rusti Clinger at a University of Miami soccer game
"People saw me on the field before the game, so I told them that I work with the athletic department, help with the equipment or do social media," she said. "It was difficult to keep the stories straight."
Being Sebastian meant a lot more than just competing in Hurricanes sporting events. The legendary character is a coveted guest of honor at children's hospitals, elementary and middle schools, bar mitzvahs, weddings, and everything in between.
While each student brings their own twist on the mascot's personality, Clinger said she's most comfortable at events involving children.
"In my group, I was known as the children or church 'Seb,'" she said. “I just loved the kids to death. They would be so happy to have me there and so would the parents.”
Clinger, who came to Miami to go to medical school to become a child neurologist, graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology and criminology. She is starting a master's degree in social work at North Carolina State University this fall and wants to work as a clinical social worker. She said part of her decision to change her career path was sparked by her experiences as Sebastian.
Madison Clinger, a native of Fort Myers and a graduate of Bishop Verot High, was recently revealed to be the first student to portray University of Miami mascot Sebastian the Ibis.
"Being Sebastian helped me get there," she said. "It's connected me in schools and other areas where I've seen kids in all kinds of walks of life.
“I knew I wanted to help underprivileged children. It's not fair that they don't have the same access to resources as other children when their future could be the same. I want to help break this cycle.”
The story goes on
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