Although the Hokie Bird is and always will be Virginia Tech’s most beloved mascot, the stilt walkers from Tron Nation make for a close second.
By the time football season and Gobblerfest have rolled around, everyone — even freshman — are well acquainted with Iron Techtron (originally Hokietron), which towers over the school’s students. Like something out of a Transformers movie, the appearances made by these tall characters, are widely accepted in the Blacksburg community.
Owned and created in 2008 by Jesse Johnson, a Tech alumnus who majored in studio art, Techtron still remains highly active at various events.
“[When people first saw it] they didn’t know what it was,” Johnson said with a laugh. “They were either scared or took pictures.”
After working at Hard Rock Park as a stilt walker and having taken a junk art class in school, Johnson brought the idea to Tech. Now, Johnson works alongside friend David Youngs, a senior hospitality and tourism management major. Youngs is currently Tron Nation’s manager.
Youngs said the two met while working at The Inn at Virginia Tech a few years ago, and have since worked together to keep this phenomenon growing. Johnson recalls Youngs’ first time on stilts, saying how his fellow Hokie picked it up quickly.
When Johnson initially created Techtron, Youngs said the first character was mostly bare with black as the primary color. They said they have since decided to “come back in black” this school year. Dressed in Tech colors or not, students can always expect to see these figures decked out in various recycled materials, casually sporting their all too well-known but humorous plastic derrieres.
Currently, five characters exist, although only three of them are active. Tron Nation consists of mainly male and one female character, which Johnson says seems to be the most popular. Their most recent addition to the group was Mini-Tron. Still tall, Mini-Tron is not as intimidating as the rest.
“I did a fashion show on campus [as the female character] and I tried to walk like a girl,” Johnson said. “It’s hard.”
Although most of their performances occur on campus or in the Blacksburg area, both Johnson and Youngs have been hired to travel to numerous locations in the U.S. At $150 for an appearance, both men have visited different colleges like Louisiana State University and Texas A&M University for football games. More recently, Johnson was called to New York City by a Tech alumnus to promote Encaff Energy Stix.
While the responses from the businesses and organizations they have performed for have been positive experiences, rival universities have not always been as appreciative.
“Last year at a UNC game I was at a tailgate by myself,” Youngs said. “This big group started yelling at me and one [from the group] tackled me.”
But by contrast, Youngs said that Techtron has also received great feedback at football games from the opposing teams’ fans. He recalled a Tech-Alabama game where Johnson was pulled through a crowd of students to the front, where he was displayed on a large inflatable screen.
Tron Nation has received media attention from the likes of ESPN, ESPNU and continues to see its popularity rise. To top off the excitement, they were recently voted fourth place in the Tailgate Kings competition according to www.bestcollegetailgate.com. The group is steadily rising to fame and will continue to represent the school they love through their appearances. Students will have the opportunity to meet some of the characters from Tron Nation at Gobblerfest later today.