BYU president becomes biggest fan, leaves legacy

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Cecil O. Samuelson has spearheaded many outstanding improvements to BYU campus and curriculum since becoming BYU’s twelfth president in 2003. He may, however, forever be remembered first for his faithful attendance and steady support at BYU basketball games.

President Cecil O. Samuelson sits courtside during a BYU women's basketball game last season. Photo by Sarah Hill
President Cecil O. Samuelson sits courtside during a BYU women’s basketball game last season. (Photo by Sarah Hill)

Preston Darger, in his fourth year as a marketing and promotions coordinator at BYU, reflected on his impressions of President Samuelson.

“To see him front row, center court at every game with his wife meant a lot to the players and the fans,” Darger said. “And he is just as big a fan as we are. Cheering them along and being passionate. It’s really cool to see someone invest so much time and energy, when they’re so busy, into the basketball team.”

Samuelson has become part of a popular tradition at the basketball games. “Whoosh! Cecil!” is cheered after BYU makes each free-throw shot. The cheer is accompanied by the entire student section gesturing toward the university president, who returns the enthusiasm with two thumbs up.

“That tradition started organically,” Darger said. “The best traditions always start from within the student section. And that is exactly how ‘Whoosh! Cecil!’ came about.”

“He has completely embraced the ‘Woosh! Cecil!’ cheer,” said Chad Burton, president of the ROC committee. “He loves it. He gives us a thumbs-up every time.”

Burton represents the student section at BYU sporting events. His main goal is to “channel all of the energy in the student section into one combined effort.” He spoke excitedly about how Samuelson has interacted with the students.

“He always comes over to say hi, shakes our hands and talks to us about the game,” Burton said. “Honestly, truly, it means a lot that he comes to almost every single game and sits front-row with his wife. It shows that they really are invested in us and the university as a whole.”

President Samuelson’s wife, Sharon G. Samuelson, is also a big supporter of BYU Athletics and faithfully attends the basketball games. Sister Samuelson has been featured in the starting lineup introductions, beginning the action with the famous line, “It’s time, lights!”

Both Darger and Burton explained how the university president has become more accessible and personable to students, while respecting his title as president of a notoriously conservative and prestigious university.

“Because he is so involved in basketball, he has made himself very approachable. You can see him face-to-face, twice a week, at the Marriott Center,” Darger said. “So if you were to see him on campus, it would be very easy to say hi to him and say thanks for coming to the game.”

Burton added, “He is the nicest guy and has proved how much he cares about interacting with students.”

Samuelson was recently featured lip-syncing Tom Jones’ “It’s Not Unusual” in a video promoting BYU athletics. The ‘Woosh! Cecil!’ cheer has not only been trademarked as a basketball tradition but also as a popular flavor of ice cream at the BYU Creamery.

“He has been an incredible president,” Burton said, speaking on behalf of BYU sports fans. “The ROC loves him.”

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