New look to old tradition at Texas A&M?

Samantha Ketcham bleeds Aggies maroon.

The dorm room the junior shares with her roommate is filled with Texas A&M paraphernalia -- from posters to T-shirts, towels and homemade hair bows. She loves nothing more than to support her beloved team in any way she can. The third-generation Aggie hasn't missed a home football game in three years, even when she had pneumonia. And keeping with school tradition, Ketcham stands during all four quarters of football games and knows all the yells -- don't call them cheers -- by heart.

By all accounts, Ketcham would seem to be the Aggies' perfect yell-leader candidate. But there's one catch: She's a woman. In the school's 105-year history of yell leaders, there has never been a female.

Ketcham hopes to change that this year as a candidate for senior yell leader.

Courtesy of Sam Ketcham

Sam Ketcham is one of two women on the 10-person ballot for Texas A&M yell leader.

"I am a third-generation Aggie, so I have been raised to love all the traditions here at A&M," said Ketcham, who is running against another female candidate, Minna Nashef. "I really love the tradition of the yell leaders because it is such a unique and defining tradition here. I've frequently been told by friends that I am the most enthusiastic Aggie that they have ever met. Whether it is at a football game or as a resident advisor, I am proud to show my love and enthusiasm for A&M."

If you're not familiar with the Texas A&M tradition, here's a little background. Five yell leaders (three seniors and two juniors) lead Aggies students in "yells" during football (home and away), basketball (home), volleyball (home) and soccer games. They also lead the school in its famous midnight yell practice before every football game. Off the field, the five students represent the school at alumni and community events. The yell leaders have traditionally been men (A&M was an all-male school until 1963) and almost exclusively from the school's Corps of Cadets (a 2,100-member student military organization).

Running for yell leader at Texas A&M is serious business; more students vote for yell leaders than for student body president. The Corps of Cadets typically sponsors five candidates (a campaign entitled "Five for Yell") to fill the positions.

Ketcham, an honors student majoring in biology, has generated buzz around College Station with an aggressive multi-platform campaign to challenge the Corps of Cadets' stranglehold on the position and become the first female yell leader in the school's history. The tradition-laden school is embarking on a new era, and Ketcham thinks the time is right to evolve.

"I think it is the perfect time. We are undergoing a lot of different changes here at A&M. We're moving to a new conference. We are going from the Big 12 to the SEC, we have a new coach [Kevin Sumlin]," Ketcham said. "So with all the change going on at A&M, I feel like we are ready to kind of make the change right now. We tend to show a very Corps of Cadets, masculine front to the other universities. A lot of people have told me they think it would be nice to show more of the diversity that A&M does have. We do have 50 percent women here at the school, so why not show up on the field, as well?"

Over the past 30 years, several women have run for yell leader, unsuccessfully. Ketcham says she not only has the right attitude and school spirit, but also a dedicated campaign to get it done in the elections scheduled for Monday and Tuesday. She also set up a social media campaign on the Internet, Facebook and Twitter.

"From what I have heard, most women tend to go off the platform of 'I am a woman, we need a woman yell leader, vote for me' and do not do much beyond that," Ketcham said. "I am holding miniature yell practices. I am talking to different organizations on campus. I have banners, flyers, buttons. I am definitely going all-out in my pursuit of this goal."

Ketcham's campaign has been welcomed by many students, especially women who thought they couldn't become a yell leader, but it hasn't been universally embraced. Her campaign has seen sabotage attempts and threats.

"I think that a lot of people are really worried that by having a female yell leader, that tradition would change," Ketcham said. "I personally do not think it would change at all, but I think the big fear is that we'll lose a tradition that really defines A&M."

Lizzie Brandeberry, Ketcham's roommate, took on the demanding job of being campaign manager because she believes in Ketcham's candidacy.

"Sam really is one of the loudest and proudest members of our class. She is really rooted in Aggie tradition," Brandeberry said. "Ever since freshman year, she's just been in love with all the traditions at A&M and she knows every single one of them. She's running for the right reasons.

"She's not running just because she's a woman and just because she thinks a woman should get to be a yell leader. She's running because it's something that she really wants to do."

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