BYU’s ‘Cougar Fight Song’ had beginnings in 1946

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He’s on the ten — the five — TOUCHDOWN! Know what comes next? “Rise, oh loyal Cougars, and hurl your challenge to the foe.”

Students on campus can recognize the catchy tune known as the “Cougar Fight Song.” But how many actually know the story behind the beloved tradition? And as with the the controversy surrounding the “Utah Man” fight song at the University of Utah, BYU’s fight song once had a sexist reference.

Fans celebrate the Cougar's victory over the Texas Longhorns by cheering and singing the "Cougar Fight Song", a tradition upheld since 1946. (Sarah Hill)
Fans celebrate the Cougar’s victory over the Texas Longhorns by cheering and singing the “Cougar Fight Song”, a tradition since 1946. (Sarah Hill)

It was Columbus Day in the year 1946. Clyde D. Sandgren was in the middle of moving his family from New York to Provo. While driving through Texas he began to whistle a lively tune. Sandgren became so captivated with the melody that he pulled out a pen, found an envelope and composed the notes and lyrics to the famous “Cougar Fight Song.”

“He got most of his tunes by whistling,” said Dee Sandgren, Sandgren’s son and current owner of the copyright to the “Cougar Fight Song.” “He went to Julliard, so he was polished enough to take a tune that he whistled and write the notes down on any scratch piece of paper then go home and play it on the piano.”

Sandgren graduated from BYU in 1932 and then moved to New York to attend law school. Even though he was miles away from BYU, his heart never left Provo.

“The song reflects his lifelong loyalty to BYU,” Dee Sandgren said. “I remember lying under his baby grand piano and just enjoying the music.”

Sandgren also wrote Provo High School’s, Timpview High School’s and Orem High School’s fight songs.

“He wrote a lot of music,” Dee Sandgren said. “He was an amazing composer.”

Sandgren and his son were close.” There couldn’t have been a closer father and son than he and I,” Dee Sandgren said.

When asked about what the fight song means to him, Dee Sandgren said, “When I go to the games I still get misty eyed because his music is very tender to me.”

One of Dee Sandgren’s most cherished memories is when he saw his BYU cheerleader daughter out on the field singing her grandfather’s fight song.

“It was very moving for my wife and me,” he said. “My dad never thought the song would end up doing much. But as the years pass it seems like the song is even more popular now than it was all those years ago.”

Like songs at other schools, the song has not been without its detractors. Members of BYU women’s studies approached Dee Sandgren back in the ’90s asking him to consider changing a couple words in the fight song. Back then the lyrics used to be “We will fight day or night, rain or snow. / Stalwart men and and true / Wear the white and blue.”

“I was not ready for that,” Dee Sandgren said. “In honor of my father, I couldn’t touch the song.”

After another year or so he was approached again about changing the song, this time by BYU’s administration.

“I had to give it a lot of consideration and prayer,” Dee Sandgren said. “My dad wasn’t there to give me any counsel, and I really struggled with changing it. But nowadays things are different. So I changed it to ‘Loyal, Strong and True.'”

Jennifer Duque, a senior at BYU studying English and women’s studies, said she is happy with the change of lyrics.

“I am glad that they changed the words,” Duque said. “There is this conception that man equals humanity like in the Bible, but now it doesn’t mean that. I think it makes sense to update our language.”

The line “Loyal, Strong and True” is considered one of the best lines of the whole song, and the phrase is frequently seen on BYU apparel.

“That phrase caught on a lot better,” Dee Sandgren said. “I’ve seen T-shirts with that phrase on them. I am very glad that I did it; I think my dad would be proud.”

Mitch Park, a BYU alumnus in Saratoga Springs, said the fight song has become more defining at football games.

“When I was a freshman I didn’t even know the fight song had anything before ‘rise and shout,'” Park said. “Now I could not imagine going to a football game without the fight song.”

For Eric Olsen, a senior in BYU’s accounting program, the fight song brings back fond memories.

“It’s nostalgic, and it brings back great memories of BYU football and basketball games with family and friends,” Olsen said. “It gets me pumped for BYU sports.”

Many students consider the fight song to be more than just a school spirit song.

“The first thing that comes to my mind when it comes to the fight song is brotherhood,” said Michael Miles, a senior studying physiology and developmental biology. “It’s not only team spirit like other schools, but it unites all the students as family.”

This upcoming fall, while students are sitting in LaVell Edwards Stadium, while fans all across the world are glued to their television and while a BYU football player crosses the goal line, make sure to rise and shout and remember BYU’s beloved fight song tradition.

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