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Put these girls in their cheerleading uniforms, give them pompons and send them onto a football field or a basketball court in the Indiana town of Lafayette before thousands of excited fans who want to shout and sing for good old Purdue, and the "culture gap," as Pam King calls it, diminishes for three hours. Yet Pam King is still just a brief, black cloud in Purdue's cheerleading ethic, which comes down to Midwest Americana: Mary Sweet, Mark Jones and "Give me a P." Theirs is the simplest, oldest and most familiar form of cheerleading. Their goal is to rouse school spirit by exhorting the crowd, but they do not try to entertain. Purdue has a baton-twirling Golden Girl for that.
At Georgia, being a cheerleader is more rigorous, more time-consuming, more dangerous and more fun.
In many respects the University of Georgia mirrors the ways of the aristocratic Old South, its languid grace and courtliness. Negro retainers serve dinner under chandeliers in the antebellum sorority and fraternity houses on South Milledge Avenue. The university, chartered in 1785, retains an air of privilege. "This is a dress school," is how one undergraduate puts it. There is, in general, a well-bred, headstrong beauty about the Georgia girls, and one is reminded, strangely and suddenly, of Scarlett O'Hara.
A mild profanity, the hells and damns that mark a Southerner's conversation as Coca-Cola signs edge his highways, is characteristic of Georgia's cheers. "We yell 'damn good defense' or 'damn good coach,' " says Cheerleader Kerry Macris, the weight lifter who was an alternate on the U.S. Olympic team. "During a game, if a train goes over the trestle near the stadium, we might yell 'damn good train.' The best damn cheer we've done was once this year when it was real hot. I saw this little bitty cloud moving in front of the sun so I called for a 'damn good cloud.' The whole crowd broke up." When a student group initiated a campaign recently to interest Georgia's students in their student government, it named the program "Give a Damn." The slogan is borrowed from The Urban Coalition, which uses it, in part, to attract whites to the black cause, but Georgia's students do not seem to be aware of that.
"This is a dull campus," says Butch Scott, editor of the twice-a-week student newspaper, The Red and Black. When the managing editor dropped out of school, Scott assumed his duties because no one really wanted the job. The apathy has become serious enough for school officials to hire a young woman to operate a viable student union, and last fall ministers on campus launched a program of their own called Thrust. "In effect, what the school is doing," Scott says, "is telling the students, 'Here is the ball. You can run with it if you want.' "
Georgia has an SDS chapter and an occasional incident. Last spring there was a two-day sit-in by 200 demonstrators in the Academic Building. They were agitating for women's rights, demanding that the women have no curfew and be allowed to drink in Athens, a privilege granted men. Following a student referendum, female equality was established. Then, several weeks ago, black Georgia students unfurled a banner at a football game that read "Bill Dooley [head football coach at the University of North Carolina] has black athletes. How about Vince [Georgia's head football coach]?" A scuffle followed, and white students tore the banner down. Campus police intervened. The sign was confiscated. End of incident.
If Georgia is a "dull campus" when it comes to various forms of student involvement, it is not dull socially or athletically, and its cheerleaders decidedly give a damn. They bring to a game and a crowd something of the flair exhibited by Georgia's most noted football player of recent times, Fran Tarkenton. For Georgia's girls, cheerleading is no mere wiggling of pompons, and for its boys a stern athletic endeavor is involved. All of the boy cheerleaders are members of the gymnastic team, and a prerequisite of making the squad is being able to do continuous backflips for 50 yards. All of the boys can backflip the length of a football field.
This unusually energetic approach to cheerleading began five years ago when the university, concerned about the physical fitness of its students, hired Lee Cunningham, a young gymnastics coach who had been All-America at Penn State and who had qualified for the 1960 U.S. Olympic team. Cunningham is slight, round-shouldered and looks like "before" in a bodybuilding ad (His students call him "Spider" but accord him the respect that they might a black widow.) One of the incidental duties given Cunningham was to be faculty adviser to the cheerleaders. At the time cheerleading was considered a "sissy" activity for boys. "The most athletic thing the boys did was to jump up and touch their toes with a bent leg," Cunningham says. "I decided to change that." He introduced tumbling and gymnast routines, and gradually the male cheerleaders began to acquire a far more vigorous image around campus. Cunningham now handpicks the boys on the squad, and they consider themselves "real stud." So do some other people. "They are unbelievably masculine," coos one of the girl cheerleaders. "You should see them without their shirts."
Nor have the girls escaped Cunningham's attention. Coeds trying out for the squad are given three weeks training in tumbling and somersaulting off trampolines, sessions that have bruised many a Georgia peach. Cunningham then cuts the group of hopefuls to the most promising 10 to 15. These go to the cheerleading finals, which are held before 10,000 people in the Coliseum, Cunningham's theory being that there is nothing like a little hand-to-hand combat to reveal a girl's fighting spirit. A panel composed of four student-body officers and 10 faculty members—a physics or geology professor is usually included to assure an eclectic opinion—selects the winning six. Sororities and fraternities come to the finals en masse, providing vociferous and highly partisan cheering sections for candidates. The girls are judged on figure, face, poise, posture, individual cheering, group cheering, pep, voice and tumbling. "They are always nice to us during the try outs," a boy cheerleader notes. "They have to work out with us in front of the judges, and we can make them look good or bad." After they have won a place on the squad, the girls sometimes are not as thoughtful. They may, for example, pay slightly less attention to their weight and become a handful to hoist. One of the present group is known, albeit affectionately, as Leadbottom.
As usual, the winners of the latest competition turned out to be the holders of numerous beauty titles. Last fall Cheerleader Debbie Giles represented Georgia tn the Miss Southeast Conference contest. Ann DeLong is the Athens Poultry Princess and three other cheerleaders are on the All-Campus Eleven, a group selected as "the most-rounded" girls at Georgia.