Quest to be first female Aggie yell leader ends

After a spirited campaign and national media attention, Samantha Ketcham didn’t come close to becoming the first female yell leader at Texas A&M.

That’s no fault of Ketcham, who displayed an admirable level of dedication and determination throughout her high-profile campaign.

It’s just that Ketcham ran on a platform of changing traditions, and that’s one thing Aggies like less than losing to the University of Texas.

When the results of the student elections for yell leader were first announced Tuesday night, Ketcham was mistakenly reported to be in a runoff with three other male students.

It takes 50 percent of the vote to become one of the five yell leaders who dress in all-white and conduct the crowd during football games.

However, the original voting percentages were miscalculated – cue your own Aggie joke about that one – and by Wednesday afternoon it was announced there would be no runoff.

Ketcham wound up with 22 percent of the vote, or fifth among the six candidates for the three senior yell leader spots. Finishing last was another female, Minna Nashef, who received just nine percent of the vote.

There were roughly 15,000 votes cast. For Ketcham to receive just 22 percent means that, most likely, a large number of her own gender didn’t vote for her.

And that’s OK. A&M can be a diverse institution in things that matter – 47 percent of the student body is female, 12 percent of the 2,200-member Corps of Cadets is female – while keeping the yell leaders an all-boys club.

Other schools have all-female cheer squads and dance teams. No one seems to have a problem with that.

In fact, Texas A&M has an all-female dance team for basketball games. There’s a movement to allow the dance team on the sidelines for football, too.

Letting the dance team perform at football games wouldn’t be nearly as jolting as turning the yell leaders into a coed group. The dance team is an established part of the A&M athletic department. Dance teams and majorettes are big in the SEC, the conference A&M will join in the fall.

But no school has a spirit group like the yell leaders, and Aggies relish the things that make their school unique. Adding a female to the yell leaders would be a step toward making them like other cheer squads, and that’s too big a step for some.

Ketcham said she could perform all the requirements of being a yell leader, she would just be “a yell leader with a ponytail.” While statements like that made for good copy in news stories and blogs from San Diego to Boston, it’s not an image the current students were prepared for.

Also working against Ketcham is that she is not a member of Corps of Cadets, which is both the living symbol and driving force for A&M’s traditions. Although the election is open to all students, yell leaders have traditionally been members of the Corps.

Women have been permitted in the Corps since 1974. When A&M finally does elect its first female yell leader, here’s betting that she will also be a member of the Corps. If a woman can win over the Corps, winning a student election will be a piece of cake.

There will be a female yell leader – or the equivalent – someday. A&M holds strongly to its traditions, but eventually the freight train of progress can’t be stopped. The attention Ketcham’s campaign received will no doubt inspire other women to run.

As for this year, Ketcham knew the odds were stacked against her, but was enthusiastic throughout her campaign and gracious when it ended.

“I’m disappointed there won’t be a runoff, but happy for the people who won,” she said in an Associated Press report. “I knew it was a very long shot in the first place as a non-(Corps member) and a female.”

Spirit and tradition dominate the atmosphere of Aggie football games. While Ketcham certainly has the spirit, tradition proved to be too tough an opponent.