“It’s my parents’ anniversary. I’m flying back home to Indiana for the weekend.”
That was my excuse for getting out of the upcoming road trip: USC @ Oregon State. Football season, 1981.
We were at yell leader practice, getting a secondhand reprimand from our captain, the Yell King, because our yell coach was furious.
So far, none of the yell leaders had stepped up to fill the vacant slot for the road trip to Corvallis, Oregon. For some reason, no one was eager to volunteer to travel to an easy win at a win-challenged school in a remote location, where just two yell leaders—the captain and the volunteer—would stand on the sideline in a hostile environment with no band, little fan support and perhaps most importantly, no song girls.
“The same guys who constantly made ‘black’ jokes surprised me by standing up for me.”
Legendary and longtime USC Yell Coach, (then-80-year-old) Lindley Bothwell thought the lack of volunteers showed a lack of commitment and had let it be known: somebody had better man up or else.
“What about you, Boyd?” asked the other yell leaders after they themselves had excused their way out of the trip. I was the last-resort option because two weeks earlier, I was the “chosen volunteer” for the USC @ Indiana game (same two-man yell squad setup).
Back home again in Indiana as a male cheerleader
The Indiana road trip was a natural for me because Indianapolis is my hometown and cheering for the Trojans at ole IU was like my very own personal homecoming. We stayed at the Indianapolis Hyatt and had dinner at my mom’s house. At the game, IU’s student section was full of my classmates from Indianapolis North Central High School.
A good chunk of my class of 1980 (circa 1,000 students) had gone to IU for college. In 1981, a good chunk of them saw me cheering at the USC vs. Indiana football game in Bloomington.
Perhaps it was those festive mini-reunions with my former classmates that fostered such good spirits between the Hoosier cheering section and the two USC yell leaders. At one point, the females in the IU band flag corps kidnapped us both and carried us to the student section.
USC won the game 21-0, and the road trip was one of my all-time college cheerleading highlights … which was exactly why I now was the last-resort option for the vacant spot on the Oregon State trip. I had already gotten mine, so to speak.
Moreover, I had only “gotten mine” because some of the other yell leaders had lobbied for me to go on the Indiana road trip, seeing as how it was my homecoming. Apparently, Coach Bothwell had unknowingly selected someone else for the road trip, until the rest of the squad found out about it and reminded him I was a Hoosier, for goodness sake!
To my astonishment, the same guys who constantly made “black” jokes—my yell mates, most of whom I considered neither friend or friendly—had surprised me by standing up for me.
If only I had known that before telling a big white lie.
“What about you, Boyd?” asked the other yell leaders, desperate for a volunteer for the Oregon State trip.
“It’s my parents’ anniversary,” I said hastily. “I’m flying back home for the weekend. Sorry, already have the reservations, been planning it for weeks.”
In truth, there was no anniversary or trip in the works. My parents weren’t even married, hadn’t been in years. I lied because I was tired and needed the rest, not another road trip.
Eventually, another yell leader caved in and went on the trip, saving all our asses and allowing us to finish out the football season as unfired SC yell leaders. The Trojans went 9-2 in the regular season, highlighted by QB John Mazer’s great comeback win in the Oklahoma game, and Marcus Allen winning the Heisman Trophy.
A late season loss at Washington dashed SC’s Rose Bowl hopes, then the Trojans’ George Achica blocked UCLA’s last-second field goal attempt and knocked the Bruins out of the Rose Bowl.
On New Year’s Day, the Trojans lost to defending national champs Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl, where I was a USC yell leader with a love hangover.
Some time during the blur, I learned that the yell leaders had lobbied for me to get the Indiana road trip. Sometime later, after my SC yell career was over, I learned that some of the squad had been angry with me for going on the Indiana road trip with the full knowledge that I was returning to Indianapolis a few weeks later for my parents’ anniversary.
Upon further reveal, my lie had sealed my fate with my yell mates, unbeknownst to me.
So that explains all that hostility, the resentment, the distance, thought my newly-informed self, reflecting on a year’s worth of ill-will.
My fellow yell leaders thought they had stood up for me for no reason, since apparently, I was a rich kid who could fly home to Indiana at will. In reality, we were anything but rich. But I lied, not even realizing how much I had poisoned my world. By the time I found out, it was too late. The school year was over. My next stop was UCLA. Had I been honest, my USC yell leading experience might have turned out quite differently.
If only I had known there was more to the story before telling such a big white lie.