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Time Capsule

12 Things to Know About the Yell Leaders

By Molly Kulpa '15

Marketing Specialist, Texas A&M Foundation

HOW THIS UNIQUE GROUP CAME TO BE

According to Aggie lore, the Aggies were badly losing during a 1907 football game, causing cadets’ dates to threaten to leave. The upperclassmen ordered freshmen to entertain the ladies, so they raided a janitor’s closet and changed into white coveralls they found. While leading the crowd in yells, they received so much attention that it was decided only upperclassmen would have the honor of leading yells in the future. Although this legend probably lacks some truth (the Aggies went 6-1-1 in 1907 and were undefeated at home), the tale has been passed down for decades. “That old saying, ‘Never let facts interfere with a really good story,’ is applicable here,” said Richard Biondi ’60, a Yell Leader from 1958 to 1960.

Running for Yell Leader Requires Creative Campaigning

Yell Leader candidates spend plenty of time, energy, effort and money conceptualizing inventive and innovative methods to earn enough votes from their peers to receive the prestigious Yell Leader title. Campaign tactics range from catchy slogans, posters and banners to t-shirts, social media messaging and more. Today, the Election Commission governs and oversees every aspect of the Yell Leader campaigning process.

Yell Book

Since the mid-1970s, Yell Leaders have been required to carry a personal “Yell Book,” a tradition reminiscent of the old days when Corps freshmen were required to carry a copy of Old Army Lou’s Campusology book. Yell Leaders are required to tape coins in the book equal to their class year. (For example, a Yell Leader from the Class of 2010 would tape a dime in his book.)

The Birth of a New Yell

In the early 1970s, football players typically sat under the basket at the open end of G. Rollie White Coliseum during basketball games. When the opposing team’s coach confronted a referee, the players yelled, “Sit down!” This later morphed into, “Sit down, bus driver!” (In the old days, the basketball team’s head coach was also the team’s bus driver, so referring to him as the bus driver insinuated that he was better at driving than coaching.) The bus driver yell took off in popularity when the Arkansas basketball team traveled to College Station in 1975: Arkansas Head Coach Eddie Sutton was rendered speechless when he first heard the student section scream the command in unison. Now, the phrase is also yelled at Texas A&M football and baseball games.

Yell Leaders Attended Football Practice with the Team

A tradition began in the 1960s allowing the Head Yell Leader to attend preseason practice with the football team to build rapport. During one practice, former Head Yell Leader Bill Youngkin ’69 recalls then-Aggie football coach Gene Stallings ’57 telling him, “Tradition or not, if you’re not in tip-top shape, you won’t play with the Texas Aggies.” Youngkin stunned Stallings when he ran the fastest mile of the entire team. “When Coach Stallings made everyone run another mile, that rapport took a lot longer to build!” Youngkin said. The last Head Yell Leader to participate in full contact drills was Tim Duffy ’98 in 1998.

Once a Yell Leader, Always a Yell Leader

The Texas A&M University Association of Former Yell Leaders was formed in 1995 to support current Yell Leaders and preserve the organization’s history. The group holds annual reunions and has a membership of approximately 200 active former Yell Leaders.

They Get to the Game—No Matter What

Aggie Yell Leaders attend all home and away football games; all home basketball, volleyball and soccer games; and post-season football, basketball and volleyball games. The late Dr. James H. “Red” Duke ’50 was so excited about being a Yell Leader for the 1948-49 year that he hitchhiked 3,200 miles roundtrip to the first game of the season against Villanova in Philadelphia.

Yell Leaders at an away football game.

Achieving the Look

Yell Leaders were initially responsible for providing their own uniforms and often wore bizarre outfits to attract attention. The first time the Yell Leaders were documented wearing all-white was in 1915, which was also the year they donned maroon “letter” sweaters featuring a large white “T.” While their getup has changed over the years, including embroidered and painted denim overalls, today’s Yell Leaders wear white trousers, a white belt, a white button-down, long-sleeved shirt with the sleeves rolled up, and maroon tennis shoes.

Springboard to Success

Many former Yell Leaders have celebrated incredible career milestones and personal successes, such as:

  • The late Dr. James H. “Red” Duke Jr. ’50: Famed trauma surgeon and medical educator at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center
  • Rick Perry ’72: United States Secretary of Energy; 47th Texas Governor
  • Ronnie McDonald ’93: Bastrop County’s first African-American judge, and at 27, the youngest in Texas history
Ronnie McDonald '93 leading a yell.

 

The Next Generation

Today’s Yell Leaders are public figures, not a rowdy group of entertainers. They serve as ambassadors when they travel to Aggie Moms Clubs, Texas A&M Coach’s Nights, all new student conferences, events hosted by various A&M Club chapters, university donor events, each session of Fish Camp, the annual Aggie Muster and more. “What we did back in our day pales in comparison to the time and effort required of today’s Yell Leaders,” said Jimmy Tyree ’54, a Yell Leader from 1952 to 1954.

A Splashy Tradition

After the Aggies beat Texas A&I (now Texas A&M Kingsville) 26-0 at the first home game of the 1940 season, nearly 2,300 freshmen captured the senior Yell Leaders and threw them into the showers. One week later, Aggie football pulled a 41-6 win over Tulsa in San Antonio, so the freshmen again dunked the senior Yell Leaders in water in a garden adjacent to the stadium. The next home game at Kyle Field—a 21-7 victory over TCU—resulted in the freshmen dunking the Yell Leaders in the Fish Pond, which remains a celebratory tradition today after each Aggie win.

How Midnight Yell Began

In the early 1900s, yell practices were held several days in a row. In fact, an October 1913 edition of The Bryan Weekly Eagle reminds locals: “Regular yell practice has commenced at the A. and M. College.” In 1931, the Head Yell Leader suggested that all students should “fall out” and meet on the steps of the YMCA building at midnight to commence yell practice. Yell practices were henceforth held at midnight, either on the steps of the YMCA Building or on the steps of Guion Hall. In the late 1940s, yell practices were held at the Grove until 1960, when they moved to Kyle Field.

Contact:

Matt Jennings '95

Senior Director of Development
Corps of Cadets