Hook 'em Horns
Jim Nicar, The Texas Exes
University of Texas at Austin cheerleader Harley Clark knew what he was going to teach football fans at a 1955 pep rally was going to catch on faster than poodle skirts and leather jackets. It had to. After all, the Texas A&M Aggies' "Gig 'em" gesture had been around for years.
Clark sold the student body on the symbolic approximation of the horns of Longhorn mascot Bevo and, thus, began the "Hook 'em Horns" hand signal.
The salute quickly took its place beside the university traditions of singing The Eyes of Texas and lighting the Tower orange.
Fellow student Henry Pitts, who had come up with the Longhorn sign during an inspired game of shadow casting, had shown Clark the sign three days before the Texas Christian University game.
At the Gregory Gym pep rally for that game, Clark showed everyone how to make the Horns hand sign and then proclaimed it to be used from that time forward. By the thousands, the university faithful extended their pinkies and index fingers toward heaven.
"A lot of my friends thought it would be too corny, but I thought it was perfect," said Clark in a recent interview. "Everyone walked out of Gregory Gym that night crazy with it."
The next day at the game, Clark watched the "Hook 'em Horns" gesture surge around the stadium from one side to the other. "TCU had a fine team," he said. "We had to make up in spirit what we lacked on the football field."
In the mid-1950s, Clark was head cheerleader at the university, a position that was elected by the student body.
"It was second only in importance to the Texas governor," he laughed. "I loved the university so much I stayed for nine years (earning undergraduate and master's degrees in government and a law degree)."
A major influence on his life was the late historian and university Professor Walter Prescott Webb.
A retired state district judge, Clark now lives in Dripping Springs, where he grows flowers and vegetables.
He was the judge who ruled in 1987 the state's system of public school finance was unconstitutional because it discriminated against students in property-poor districts. When he hung up his robes in 1989, Clark joined the Austin office of the Houston-based law firm of Vinson &Elkins for 10 years.
He remains connected to the university through the Friar Society, Tejas Club, the Ex-Students' Association and the Cowboys Alumni group.
Clark still is introduced at university events as the person who introduced the "Hook 'em" sign. At the recent 2001 Gone to Texas event for new students, Clark recalled the birth of the gesture to the crowd:
"Our team, the band and the cheerleaders were on the stage at Gregory Gym. After conducting the regular pep rally, I got the crowd quiet and began explaining to them: 'You know how the Aggies have the "Gig 'Em" thumbs-up hand sign (doing it as I spoke). I do not know of any other college with a hand signal. But it is time we had one, too.'"
And, as they had done 46 years before, a roar went up from the crowd and everyone happily and friskily waved "Hook 'em Horns."
Jim Nicar is on staff with the Texas Exes, where he's Director of the UT Heritage Society. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org. The Texas Exes connects its members to each other and to the past, present, and future of The University of Texas.