Rick Perry’s Prayer Rally: It’s Really Midnight Yell Practice

This Saturday Texas Gov. Rick Perry is sponsoring a prayer rally called “The Response.”  In a country whose elites are sensitive to any serious demonstration of faith, the reactions have been predictable.  But in view of the buzz regarding Rick’s plans after The Response, I think we need to look at this another way.

Ags, this is Midnight Yell Practice, only this time it’s 1000-1700.

Rick Perry ’72 graduated from Texas A&M the year before I came there.  Not only that, Rick was a Yell Leader.  A&M’s whole cheering system was one of those culture shocks I experienced, but once an Aggie, always an Aggie.  So here goes, with some photos and reminisces in an era much closer to Rick’s time in College Station.

Most colleges and pro teams use cheerleaders to fire up the team.  Since the early 1930’s A&M has always used Yell Leaders.  There are five of them, all men (they’re elected, a woman hasn’t been chosen yet.)

Below: the five Yell Leaders, dressed in white, on the track during the game with Boston College, 29 September 1973.  They have an elaborate system of signals to keep the Aggies’ yell together, thus the need to practice.

Yell leaders and cheerleaders contrasted; the yell leader is at the right, the cheerleaders towards the centre and left, for the Baylor game 27 October 1973.  In the middle is the drum major for the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band, a military band.   What Baylor was trying to accomplish with the armed rabble in the background is a mystery, but they didn’t stand much of a chance against the Corps of Cadets.  Up in Fayetteville the Arkansas Razorbacks liked to throw whiskey bottles at opposing bands during half-time, but they kept them in their brown bags when the Aggies came on the field.

Yell Leader Ron Plackmeier (one of the early civilians to get the job) trying to keep the yells going at the Baylor game.  The water on the track showed another occupational hazard of yell leaders: getting rained on, but everyone else had to put up with it.

I mentioned the elaborate set of signals, and this leads to the need (?) for Midnight Yell Practice.  Generally held the Friday night before the game, to be honest it was a combination of pep rally, revival meeting (sometimes candles would be lit or handkerchiefs waved), military drill and pagan ceremony.  Usually we would gather near the Corps Quad and march over to Kyle Field for the actual practice.  “March” is a stretch; what we did was go shoulder-to-shoulder, arm-to-arm behind the band as a tightly packed group.  Many of us were drunk (drinking at 18 was legal when I was at Texas A&M) and pity the poor soul who didn’t keep up, it was easy to get trampled in the rush.  (Sober and tall, I had something of an advantage over many others).

Once at Kyle Field the yell leaders would do their thing, interspersing the actual yell practice with all kinds of what Aggies call “good bull.”  Some of that good bull could be off-colour; A&M was still a predominantly male school, more so when Rick was there.  The best Midnight Yell Practice (and in some ways the most pagan) was before the t.u. game, when they lit the Aggie Bonfire, at the time situated on a high place in back of the Corps Quad.  When they lit the 70’+ high Bonfire, your face felt like melting off even when you were standing well away from it.

In any case Midnight Yell Practice was frequently more exciting than the game itself.  The 1973 season wasn’t A&M’s best (5-6) and we had to stand (yes, stand, as in 12th Man) through four quarters of Emory Bellard’s (of blessed memory, he died of ALS earlier this year) Wishbone football, some of the most boring college ball to ever hit the NCAA.

But to the present: Midnight Yell Practice was the natural prelude to the Aggie football game.  The Response, for its part, is the natural prelude to Rick running for President, and I would be surprised if he hasn’t made the analogy himself.  The big difference is that college football games are planned and scheduled openly years in advance, an upheaval in conferences (and A&M has experienced that) excepted.  With the complex theatrics we have in American politics, Rick’s announcement to run is anything but, although I have confidence that his team is warming up for that contest, too.

Below: between Midnight Yell Practice and the game, warming up, as the Aggies did here for the Boston College game.

Rick’s run for the Republican nomination is going to be one of the more interesting parts of this election cycle.  On  the one hand, his supreme advantage is that he is from the Republicans’ base region, the Old Confederacy.  People here may agree with the social and economic conservatism of a Tim Pawlenty or Michele Bachmann, but they’re still Midwesterners.  (Things really get dicey with Mitt Romney).  On the other hand, Rick, as an Aggie, is a product of a different kind of conservative than most social conservatives these days.  It’s a conservatism where religiosity coexists with some decidedly unspiritual things like Midnight Yell Practice.  (At A&M, the two coexisted well: the strong group strength and spirit was a boost to the various Christian fellowships there).  How a candidate who’s cool with NY’s same sex civil marriage based on the 10th Amendment will sit with today’s semi-theonomist remains to be seen.

For me personally, having an Aggie break the dreary procession of post-Reagan Ivy Leaguers would be very satisfying.  It won’t be easy; in addition to his elitist snob credentials, Barack Obama can woo an electorate which has grown more accustomed to the dole and/or helicopter parenting than ever, and that in a background of economic uncertainty.  But don’t underestimate Rick Perry: like those to try to stand in the way of the march at Midnight Yell Practice, it’s easy to get trampled in the rush.

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