Leave it to Yalies to cheer in ancient Greek at a football game.
Tomorrow during the Yale-Princeton game, Yale Cheerleading will be reintroducing the “Long Cheer,” a traditional chant first used at football games in the 1880s. The team is performing the cheer, written half in Greek and half in English, at the request of alumni Robert O’Connor ’48 and Frank Gibson ’49, who will be attending the game.
The words of the chant come from Aristophanes’ ancient Greek comedy “The Frogs,” written in 405 BCE. Legend has it that Yalies studying Greek in 1884 thought that “brek-ek-ek-ek-ex, ko-ax, ko-ax,” the sound Aristophanes attributes to frogs in the underworld, would make a rallying football cheer, according to an article in the Yale Alumni Magazine.
Gibson said he always wanted to reinstate this “great Yale tradition.” Earlier this year at their Yale reunion, Gibson said, he and O’Connor contacted and met with then-Dean of Yale College Peter Salovey in the Woolsey Hall Rotunda to show him the cheer. Their hope, Gibson admitted, was for Salovey to lead the cheer at football games, just as he leads the marching band. Gibson said he was surprised when a reporter from the Alumni Magazine appeared and videotaped his performance of the “Long Cheer.”
It was from this tape that Yale Cheerleading, after being contacted by the Dean’s Office with the alumni’s request to stage the cheer at the Yale-Princeton game this year, was able to learn the lyrics and motions of the cheer.
Current co-captain of the cheerleading team Lindsay Barbee ’09 said there was no question of whether the team would do it.
“This will be a one-time tribute to the alumni,” Barbee said of the cheer’s debut. “Unless the crowd really enjoys it.”
Barbee said she wanted to reinvent the “Long Cheer,” making it appealing to current audiences and also reconciling it with the contemporary style of cheerleading. The co-captain said she had to choreograph new, sharper moves that still reflect the simplicity for which the cheer is traditionally known.
“We had to modernize it into something the alums could still recognize and also something we could perform confidently,” Barbee said.
Last year, Simone Berkower ’09, assumed the position of unofficial Yale Cheerleading historian after she researched the history of Yale Cheerleading for an academic paper. Berkower said that the “Long Cheer” was one of the most popular cheers at Yale in the early 20th century.
She said she is glad that the team decided to keep the original words but change the motions of the cheer. Before, Berkower said, the movements were manly and antiquated. “What we’re doing is a physical representation of a larger idea,” she said. “We’re taking an old tradition and modernizing it.”
Yet Yale Cheerleading still wants to give its audience a taste of authenticity. Barbee said the team will try to induce Gibson and his friends, who are also scheduled to attend the game, to come onto the field and participate in the cheer themselves.
While adapting and teaching the “Long Cheer,” Barbee said she noticed a shift in cheerleaders’ roles simply by watching Gibson’s rendition of the cheer on video.
“It seems like he is a cheerleader, whereas now cheerleaders are a staple in themselves — sometimes we’re leading cheers but sometimes we’re just cheering,” Barbee said, drawing a fine distinction.
As for the extinction of the “Long Cheer,” the facts are hazy. The Alumni Magazine dates the disappearance of the cheer to the 1960s, based on a survey of alumni visiting during the 2008 reunion last summer. And, though it will be resuscitated tomorrow, Barbee and Berkower said they are unsure if the cheer is back to stay. “If people get into it, which may or may not happen, then we can do it again,” Barbee said.
But she added that Yale Cheerleading already performs many traditional Yale cheers, such as the Fight Song, and doesn’t know how prominent this one will be.