A cheer started by a small group of fans to welcome BYU President Cecil O. Samuelson has turned into a routine, tradition and even an ice-cream flavor.
The reward for BYU fans? A thumbs up from President Samuelson.
BYU fans cheered the common “whoosh” every time a free throw was made, but the addition of “Cecil” didn’t come until a group of freshmen, during the 04–05 basketball season, noticed President Samuelson’s emotionless face during basketball games. A dismal 9–21 record didn’t help, but the faithful freshmen were determined to get President Samuelson involved, and they decided the best time would be the quietest time of the game — during free throw attempts. Now BYU graduates, Aubrey Larsen, Allison Kinney, Drew Brown and Jeff Murphy were part of the small group that started the famous free-throw cheer, but they had hidden intentions as well.
“President Samuelson was still pretty new at BYU, and we were all a bit skeptical as to where his allegiance was, since he was heavily involved in the (University of Utah’s) booster club prior to coming to BYU,” Larsen said. “We joked that he probably wore red socks to every game, because he couldn’t really cheer for BYU. … There were a lot of President Samuelson jokes and such going around then, as that was the same time the ‘Cecil is my Homeboy’ T-shirts were all over campus. I think everyone at BYU was just making light of the situation that our school president came from our arch enemy. Our saying was just our contribution to all the ‘Cecil’ fervor that year.”
The group’s efforts took a long time to pay off before getting President Samuelson to crack a smile. Larsen and Kinney credit Murphy with getting the cheer heard because he had the loudest voice in the Marriott Center.
“Jeff Murphy was the main catalyst because he was so vocal and animated at games, which is easy to understand if you knew his personality and the fact that he had missed two basketball seasons,” Kinney said.
When all the boys in the group left to serve LDS missions, the girls remained loyal to their cheer, despite the funny looks they received from people around them, and kept the streak going. Brown, who left on his mission after the 04–05 season, was surprised to see that the cheer hadn’t phased out while he was away.
“I doubt we ever got more than 15 or 20 people to do it that first year,” Brown said. “The cheer would have died off were it not for some very valiant girls from the group who kept the cheer alive while we were gone. In fact, when we returned to campus two years later (for the 07–08 season), there were usually a couple dozen people doing the cheer at every game.”
Slowly but surely, the cheer started to grow when BYU students began to show support for a basketball program that was revived. The group that once started the cheer was reunited and was helped by loyal fans who ignited what is now a tradition.
The cheer caught on in the student section at the end of the 09–10 season when Jimmer Fredette was a junior, but it took off the following year.
“I think Jimmermania helped a ton, because we started to see the same people at every game, and people started to pick up on it,” Murphy said.
Trent Boulter, a communications graduate student, along with his friend Robby Hamblin, also a BYU graduate, helped spark the cheer and assisted in what it is today. As a fan leading the cheers, Boulter would yell, “Put it up,” referring to the fingers pointed upward, each time the ball was tossed to the player shooting a free throw and, pointed at President Samuelson after a make.
“We were actually really, really surprised at how well it caught on, and the fact that it’s now even turned into an ice cream flavor, which I think is freakin’ awesome,” Boulter said. “It has become such an iconic thing for the student section that other fans around the arena as well as people at BYU Creamery have decided to take notice.”
President Samuelson didn’t give the student section a thumbs up after each made free throw until the end of the 09–10 season, but now it is a must. General authorities attend BYU basketball games and smile at the cheer, but it is not always a laughing matter for the students. It’s a cheer that must be done with the real President Samuelson or the individual he sends in his place.
“It’s gotten to the point where if he doesn’t acknowledge us, the student section gets angry,” Boulter said. “They will start yelling at Cecil, regardless of what’s going on on the court, until he gives us the thumbs up, which is also why when he’s not here, he has his secretary or someone else show up with a cardboard cut-out of his face and they do the thumbs up.”
“Whoosh Cecil” even travels to away games, where BYU fans would point towards Provo or where they thought President Samuelson was at the time.
Kinney and her friends have seen the cheer on television and laugh at the thought that a “silly freshman cheer is now a big part of the BYU student section.”