The élan of the squad is well expressed in its fleet of cars—GTOs, Mustangs, Camaros, a TR4 (it belongs to Head Cheerleader Macris, who keeps it locked in the university poultry barn) and an air-conditioned VW. Coach Cunningham cheerfully holds his own with a yellow Thunderbird convertible.
Unlike Purdue's more casual cheerleaders, Georgia's girls continue to go through a rough, demanding and invigorating training program after they are selected, and they take considerable pride in their performances. They have nightly practices doing flips, handsprings, cartwheels and splits as bare feet and aching backs thud against the wrestling mats in the Coliseum or on the grass outside. Their efforts have a rhythm of concentration and skill as their leader, Merman-voiced Linda Wood, calls out the cheers:
Rip 'em up
Tear 'em up
Give 'em hell, Georgia
"I'm sweating like a colored person," Mary Jo Mansour said, flopping on the floor after a recent practice. But, displeased with her performance—she had been turning her head to the side in flips off the trampoline—she made an appointment with Cunningham for an hour's coaching early the next morning. "That's all she will need," he said. "Sometimes a girl will begin to lose her nerve. You take her back to the beginning and run her through the fundamentals and she'll be fine again. I ask a lot of this group, the boys and the girls, and I think they have a great deal of pride in the things they have accomplished."
This season Georgia's football team and Cunningham's crew made it to the Sugar Bowl where, perhaps, the whole country could get a quick television glimpse of an Athens Poultry Princess.
But turn farther south now, deep south, down to Mississippi, where a cheerleader is likely to be a Miss America aspirant instead of a Poultry Princess, where becoming a cheerleader is a social-political activity and where the sweat is largely devoted to attaining the position, not performing in it.
How much it means to be a cheerleader at Ole Miss can be measured by the expense of getting elected. Though the university has a rule forbidding students from spending more than $75 per candidate on elections, "the vouchers are kinda juggled," a cheerleader explains. Presumably most of them are lost, because no boy or girl has a chance to win unless their represented fraternity or sorority spends at least $1,000. Billboards are plastered up—VOTE JOHNNY REBEL; KITTY HAY—DEDICATED DYNAMITE; WALTERINE'S SPIRIT MACHINE; YOU CAN BET ON BODIE. Cards are printed, athletes' endorsements sought, musical bandwagons roll from sorority house to fraternity house—in all, a fervor of political activity in the American-traditional mode.
"As a cheerleader you become known," one of the group explains. "It primes the students to vote for you in other elections. It is the biggest of all the campus elections."
The winners are not the most adept cheerleaders but the most popular students or the ones who put together the most powerful political machines. There are alliances between sororities and fraternities—"we'll vote for your candidate if you vote for ours." There are grudges—the Delta Gammas don't vote for Chi Omegas, it is said, because an elderly lady, a Chi Omega, owns the old house in Oxford where the Delta Gammas were founded. The woman refused to sell house and home to the DGs. There is block voting by women scorned. Sororities become jealous of girls who win too many honors. Spitefully, they vote for plain Janes. When Ole Miss comes up with a homely cheerleader, it is probably because she benefited handsomely by this ballot of dissent. Zetta Mae Bryant, a cheerleader who had been undefeated in campus elections and is considered sexy by the males at Oxford, is rumored to have been the victim of such a face-powder plot in the recent homecoming-queen election, which she lost to a write-in candidate.
After a week of enthusiastic speeches and relentless campaigning in March, the cheerleader candidates offer last-minute enticements—bubble gum, Cokes, cotton candy, chocolate footballs, Popsicles—to students as they cast their votes in a ballot box in front of The Grill. In Oxford the way to a man's vote seems to be through his stomach—the gut issue.