50 years of 'Hook 'em Horns'
Hand-sign creator to emcee anniversary event with other cheerleading alumniBy Noelene Clark
1955 was the year the first McDonald's started serving up hamburgers, the year Chuck Berry released his rock 'n' roll single "Maybelline" and the year the University installed lights in Memorial Stadium.
It was also the year that Harley Clark, the University's elected head cheerleader, introduced the "Hook 'em" hand sign - an event that Clark will reenact on its 50th anniversary on Nov. 11. Clark and UT Heritage Society Director Jim Nicar met Tuesday to make plans for the event.
But before the "Hook 'em" hand sign became the rallying call for Longhorns across the country, it was a shadow puppet.
A week before a big football rally on campus, Clark's friend Henry "HK" Pitts had suggested to Clark that the University adopt a hand signal, similar to the Aggies' "Gig 'em" thumb, for their upcoming game against Texas Christian University.
"Henry said he's been doing some shadow dancing," Clark said, and a fist with a extended pinky and forefinger looked like a Longhorn, Pitts showed Clark.
"I tried it out on some fellow students, and most of them thought it was corny," Clark said. "But I thought it was a natural."
The rally before the game took the form of an old-fashioned religious revival, during which audience members were encouraged to "Git the Longhorn Spirit" by a student "preacher" who handed around chicken buckets as collection plates to raise money for charity.
At the end of the event, Clark stood before a gym full of cheering Longhorn fans and lifted his hand in what would become the University's traditional "Hook 'em" hand signal, declaring, "This is the official sign of the University of Texas to be used whenever and wherever Longhorns gather!"
The audience fumbled with their hands, and "a lot of people didn't get it right at first," said Neal Spelce, who attended the rally when he was a student at the University. "There was a mixed reaction. Some people said, 'What the hell is this all about?' But for the majority, we were at a pep rally atmosphere, so we got with it."
Clark was "standing satisfied" with his hands on his hips as students filed out the gym after the rally, "all having a big time" playing with the hand signal, he said.
"Dean [of Students Arno] Nowotny took hold of my elbow, wheeled me around and said, 'Harley, I'm furious with you,'" Clark said. "He told me, 'You didn't get permission for this, and this is going to catch on. This is going to last.'"
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