Times have changed, certainly, but lest we forget those who once stood poised by their megaphones, ready to lead a spirited locomotive cheer, let’s remember, shall we, the men of cheer..
Yes, mascots slam dunking off trampolines are among the more amusing spectacles available at halftime, and, yes, the national cheerleading championship broadcast from Disney World does feature impressive pyramid building and endless tossing of small girls into the stratosphere, but doesn’t it all feel contrived, really?
Fired Up and Bring It On took us inside that heartless world of cheer competition, but like the Disney version of cheering, school spirit seems secondary if mentioned at all. Satan’s Cheerleaders expanded the scope of the genre, but again, was much more about a secondary issue (sacrificing virgins) than rooting a team to glory. Apparently cheering as cheering lost traction somewhere along the way.
I suppose a modern cheer take on the Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland “Hey-let’s-paint-the-old-barn-and-put-on-a-show” montage would present the moment in which the college’s notably mousy librarian jumps from the bleachers as the final minute ticks down, the home team scores, she drops her specs, strips off her cardigan sweater, displays the college’s colors, and leads the crowd in a furious snake dance around the goal posts. I suppose she could as easily mug the opposing team’s mascot, toss an overweight bobcat to the ground and plant the school’s flag somewhere near its nether bits. Or not.
Back to the locomotive, a cheer rarely heard on the sidelines these days. It’s simplicity itself; fans simply follow the leaders in spelling the school’s name, deliberately at first, gathering steam as the cheer is repeated – like a locomotive – get it? Not too tough on the sidelines at Yale, a bit more challenging at Susquehanna. Simple, perhaps, but the energy behind the cheer comes from the urging of cheerleaders, men in letter sweaters virtually foaming at the mouth as the cheer grown in intensity. Toss away any misconception you might have about the popularity of male cheerleaders in the day; these guys were BMOC, Aces,Keen. Mr.Charisma grabbed a microphone, threw his shoulders back, and tossed out the first word. That was enough. That’s all it took.
In the 1880’s Princeton’s lads developed what would come to be known as the skyrocket cheer –
Hooray! Hooray! Hooray!
Tiger. Sis, Boom. Bah Princeton!
In Austen, in 1892, eager Longhorns “borrowed” a cheer in use at Philips Academy Exeter (NH), a school known as PEA:
Hullabaloo! Hoo-Ray! Hoo-Ray!
Hullabaloo! Hoo-Ray! Hoo-Ray!
Varsity! Varsity! UTA!
And the familiar refrain?
Rah! Rah! Rah!
Sis! Boom! Bah!
… It is rumored that the first modern cheer of this sort originated at the University of Minnesota where six male cheerleaders kicked this genre into gear.
Rah, Rah, Rah! Ski-u-mah, Hoo-Rah! Hoo-Rah! Varsity! Varsity! Varsity, Minn-e-So-Tah!”
OK, that was fine as far as it went, but some colleges brought a higher level of erudition to the field. Imagine if you will the Britons of Albion College rousing the crowd in 1884 as Olivet came to town:
Io Triumphe! Io Triumphe!
Haben, swaben, rebecca le animore
Whoopy, whoopty, shellerdy veridy;
Broomdy, Ralldy, eyedy pa
Honeka, heneka, wack-a wacka;
Hob, bob, boldibara, boldibara,
Con slomaday, hob, dab, rah!
Occidental borrowed that one wholesale, and others traveled equally well, as did this gem from Mercer University in Georgia.
Ricker-chicker, Boom! Ricker-chicker, Boom!
Ricker-chicker, Ricker-chicker, Boom ! Boom ! Boom !
Even more institutionally specific is the cheer used by years by the fun-loving pranksters at Cal Tech:
Cosine, tangent, secant, sine
Logarithm, logarithm, hyperbolic sign,
slide rule, slide rule
Tech, Tech, Tech.
Fun is fun, but every once in a while a college has to step up and celebrate its core values, as is done on the sideline at Indiana’s Earlham College, one of the nation’s most Quakerly of Friends colleges:
Fight, Fight, Inner Light!
Kill, Quakers, Kill!
Knock ’em Down, Beat ’em Senseless!
Do It til We Reach Consensus!
For years, Earlham’s mascot was “Mr. Quaker”, a portly figure the virtual twin of the character shilling for Quaker Oats. Today, however, that bastion of Quakerism has become, “Big Earl”, a fearsome if highly principled avatar.
Who WERE these guys, these captains of cheer squads? Here are but a few: George W. Bush (Head Cheerleader at Andover), Jimmy Stewart (Head Cheerleader at Princeton), Dwight D. Eisenhower (Varsity football star who cheered while injured), Franklin D. Roosevelt (Harvard Cheerleader). What’s changed over the years? Somehow this activity, once entirely controlled by men was transformed, sometime in the 1950’s as pom poms began to replace megaphones. The ranks of women who once cheered is perhaps even more celebrated (Halle Berry, Vanna White, Sandra Bullock, Madonna …. and … Ruth Bader-Ginsburg).
Sis! Boom! Bah!