Cheerleaders: The Hardest Working Ram Fans for the last 100 years
By John Hirn
CSU Athletics Historian
It is impossible for me to attend a Rams event at Hughes Stadium or Moby Arena without my eight-year-old daughter spotting the cheerleaders. The moment we sit in our seats, she and her six-year-old sister are looking for them. They immediately become a fan of the Rams cheerleaders, cheering as soon as they hit the court or field.
The tradition of cheerleading dates back almost 100 years to the time when CoachHarry Hughes'Aggies started winning football championships and Fort Collins citizens flocked to Colorado Field to see them. At that time there were usually three loud and high-spirited men who would jump up and down in front of the grandstands to yell out specific cheers for the fans to repeat.
Known as "Yell Leaders", these first cheerleaders typically had a very large megaphone and would take care of the team mascot, Peanuts the Bulldog and in 1919 a brown bear. They were students who loved the game and wanted the fans to yell loud cheers while the Aggies were on the field.
By 1923, the first organized team of cheerleaders took form in a group known as the "Howling Sixty". Led by the three Yell Leaders, the Howling Sixty sat together in the stands, dressed in green and gold coats with green army-like hats to cheer on the team in unison.
Throughout the 1920s the Yell Leaders continued to be the three men who guided the Howling Sixty and by the 1930s these men kept the tradition going. One man who Ram Fans will always remember is Larry La Sasso, a 1934 graduate who was one of these cheerleaders that later continued to cheer on fans in the stands at Hughes Stadium, wearing his Aggie cheerleading sweater and later a green kilt. The school's top award for fans, known as the Larry La Sasso Spirit Award is named in his honor.
Until WWII cheerleaders had remained a male-dominated group, but after WWII that all changed when women took to the field and courts to cheer on the Aggies in the way we commonly know today. Since 1945 women have been the cheerleaders of the Aggies and Rams with some men joining the teams to make co-ed cheerleading groups.
Today the CSU Cheerleading squad remains as the hardest working Ram Fans at volleyball matches, football games and men's and women's basketball games. This group of women spend anywhere from 10-15 hours a week dedicated to the spirit of CSU athletics. They do it on their own time and unlike the student in the CAM costume or Golden Poms, cheerleaders do not receive scholarships to do the hours of work that it takes to be CSU Cheerleaders.
The work they do is as volunteers with a coach to guide them through their year. CoachDawn Burtonis their leader and works with her team on everything from time management to academics, not to mention cheering for four sports. She said, "As a coach, I still hold them to keeping their academics number one priority and maintaining their GPA...I fill our teams with individuals who literally LOVE being Rams. They bleed green and gold and love supporting the teams and seeing them succeed."
One thing that many Ram fans likely don't know is the cheerleading team is mainly self-funded with a little help from the athletic department. The squad has several fund-raising activities though out the year, including cheer clinics for the youngest Ram fans along with each cheerleader paying a fee at the beginning of the year. Many of the cheerleaders have jobs to help pay for school.
Cheerleaders also dedicate themselves to the teams they support. During the week of the recent Las Vegas Bowl, the ladies had to take all of their final examinations before they left on Wednesday evening. In some cases they had to take their tests, with one of the CSU academic coordinators, in Las Vegas.
While in Las Vegas they attended alumni functions, the Friday night pep rally, Saturday pre-game festivities and of course cheered on the Rams during the nationally televised bowl game. Afterwards they caught the 6:00pm flight out of Las Vegas, landed in Denver at 9:00pm and after returning to Fort Collins late Saturday night were at Moby Arena in uniform at 1:00 Sunday afternoon for the 2:00pm tip-off of the women's basketball game.
Coach Burton said of her team, "I think it's easy to overlook how much these girls do during any given year. They work very hard. They are at every home game for those four sports, on top of keeping their academics up, practice and for some, working. It's simply because they love what they do and they love the RAMS."
A CSU volleyball, football or basketball game would not be the same without cheerleaders; my daughters tell me that all of the time. If more men become interested in joining the squad, perhaps someday they will be a co-ed team again. However, the tradition of cheerleading will go into its second century at CSU with spirit and a love of Rams athletics.
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