The rich tradition of Texas A&M yell leaders will give Notre Dame fans some extra motivation to pump up the volume in the stands this weekend.
By MIKE CONNOLLY
At last year's home opener, Irish traditions and spirit had the whole stadium to themselves. Kansas wasn't really known for its football traditions and its fans were more interested in seeing the Dome than cheering for their team. This year, everything has changed. While the spirit of Notre Dame and its wondrous traditions are unmatched, they will not go unchallenged.
This year, the Aggies are coming to town.
While A&M's success on the gridiron is great, the stands are where the best in A&M traditions reside. Led by five student "yell leaders," A&M fans are known for their synchronized hand motions and cheers, known as "yells."
"It's a whole lot of fun," head yell leader Ricky Wood said about cheering at an A&M game. "Even when you are a freshman you feel like you are a part of something bigger."
The yell leaders act as the preachers before the choir of Texas A&M fans. Students, alumni and fans all know the yells and hand motions that are as much a part of an A&M game as the quarterback.
The first documented evidence of yell leaders dates back to 1907 but Wood believes the tradition extends into the 19th century. The all-male military school atmosphere at A&M gave rise to the organization and spirit needed for the boisterous yells, according to Wood.
Although A&M students are no longer required to join the Corps of Cadets and the school went co-ed in 1973 (yes, some schools took even longer than Notre Dame to admit women), the traditions of the yell leaders live on.
Wood expects the yell leaders to use between 10 and 12 yells this year. Each yell is many years old but is occasionally modified by the yell leaders to fit certain games.
"It's at the discretion of the yell leaders to choose the yells to motivate the crowds," Wood said. The yells range in tone from humorous to motivational but all of them are loud. "It really depends on the situation. Some are funny. Some make fun of the other team and some are just for motivating the team."
After every cheer each student makes a noise and hand motion known as a "wildcat." Each class is assigned a different "wildcat." Every Aggie fan will know which yell to cheer by watching the hand signals of the yell leaders. The hand signals and cheers are taught to the freshmen at yell practices. Yell practices are midnight pep rallies that are attended by up to 30,000 fans the night before each game.
The two junior and three senior members of the squad are elected by a popular vote of the students. "It's sort of like a small town election," Wood said.
The students choose the person who will best represent the school. In addition to leading the cheers at sporting events, the yell leaders also attend many social functions and meet with alumni groups.
"It's not always the craziest guy." Wood said. "People assume it's the guy who can drink the most and yell the loudest but it is really the people who will be the best representatives for the school."
The Aggie cheers will surely make the Stadium an intense place this Saturday but for many Notre Dame students and alumni, the anticipation for the game has been growing for weeks, months and sometimes even years.
"Most of the guys I went to high school with went to A&M — at least the most vocal ones did," said Michael Newhouse, president of the Notre Dame Texas club. The third year graduate student in theology hails from Houston and made sure to rub in the Cotton Bowl victories in 1993 and 1994 to his friends. (Aggies, however, claim they have never been defeated. They have only been outscored when time ran out.)
"They all own maroon cars and trucks," the Class of 1992 undergrad said about his high school friends. `It's not an exaggeration — that's the thing to do."
After the two Irish Cotton Bowl victories, his A&M friends have been itching for a chance for a rematch.
"Notre Dame is kind of the evil northern aggressor who came down and trampled them one too many times," he said.
While Newhouse and his friends have exchanged friendly barbs, things have remained relatively calm in the home of Deigo and Christy Jimenez — Texas A&M Class of 1996 and Notre Dame Class of 1996 respectively.
"I wouldn't say there is any extra tension," Christy said. "I hope Notre Dame wins but we'll see."
Although A&M is known for their intense fans, Christy says she takes her football more seriously than Deigo. Considering last year's record, however, Christy isn't making any bold victory predictions.
"With the past couple of years, I am hesitant to say we'll win," she said. "Diego is a little more laid back than I am. He will be a lot less upset if Notre Dame wins than I will be if Notre Dame loses."
The couple met through their jobs with Spirit shortly after graduation and were married in 1999. While Diego and Christy have gotten along well despite the upcoming gridiron showdown, Diego is a little concerned with the way an A&M fan will be received at Notre Dame.
"I am a little worried about how I'll be treated," he said. "With my A&M hat and shirt, I going to try to keep it a little covered. I just have to be ready with some witty comebacks."
Although the crowds at A&M are known for their spirit throughout the stadium, Christy has been disappointed sitting with the alumni since she graduated.
"That's one negative about coming back to a game as an alumna," she said. "You don't feel the spirit of the stadium. You are with adults and they are much more relaxed. They just sit there."
Thanks to the yell leaders at A&M, however, the whole crowd gets into the games.
"It's pretty intense," said Deigo. "It seems kind of silly to talk about but once you are there its extremely powerful. They do the yells and so all the motions with the songs that the students do. There's a lot more movement at A&M." He assessed the Notre Dame crowds as "pretty tame" in comparison.
A possible reason for the yell leaders ability to incite a crazier crowd at A&M than the Irish cheerleaders can incite in the Stadium could be the physical preparations the yell leaders go through. Rather than attending separate cheerleader practices, the yell leaders all work out with the football team.
Although NCAA regulations prohibit them from suiting up in pads anymore, the yell leaders still run, lift and drill in the hot Texas sun, right along side the football players.
Wood says the Aggies are ready to avenge the previous loses to the Irish.
"Regardless of what y'all are ranked, it's still a big deal to beat Notre Dame," he said.
All Scene Stories for Friday, September 1, 2000