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End of an era: UCLA alumni cheerleader Geof Strand retires

Alumni cheerleader Geoffrey Strand was known for asking “every man, woman and child” to cheer for UCLA.

By Bianca Hock

Nov. 25, 2013 2:43 a.m.

Short white socks with blue and gold stripes. Royal blue shorts cut just above the knee. A blue and gold V-neck sweater reveals the collar of a gold undershirt.

These are the trademarks of a Bruin who has sported his head alumni cheerleader outfit beneath a blue and gold newsboy hat for almost 38 years.

He’d started wearing the hat as a preteen in order to protect the top of his head, where cancerous tissue had been removed. About 25 years ago, he had 144 of these hats custom-made – and after the weathering of scores of games, he said he’s down to six.

This past Saturday, the crowd watched the man in the iconic hat for the last time as UCLA Class of ’71 alumnus Geoffrey Strand asked “every man, woman and child” to give him an 8-clap at the Rose Bowl Stadium. Strand officially retired from his position as head alumni cheerleader, an unpaid position he’s held since 1976.

“I thought it was going to be a game or two,” Strand said, laughing. “I honestly did!”

Four days before UCLA played Arizona State, Strand sat in his corner office in Santa Monica, reflecting on the last 38 years as alumni head cheerleader.When Strand is not ringing his bell on the sidelines of a UCLA football game, he is giving financial advice at Morgan Stanley, where he’s senior vice president.

“I’ve got a thriving business here at Morgan Stanley,” said the 66-year-old cheerleader. “My business has been pretty robust.”

So why dedicate nearly four decades of his lifetime toward a time-consuming cheerleading position that doesn’t pay?

“In 1976, there was virtually no pregame anything. Nothing. There was no Breakfast Club, there was no alumni band, there was nothing,” Strand said.

In 1976, just after taking his position as head coach for UCLA football, Terry Donahue reached out to Strand, a young alumnus.

“He picked up the phone one day and said, ‘Geof, I need you back on the field again. I want your positive, supportive direction,’” Strand said.

Donahue had called just the right man.Back when Strand was still a student at UCLA, between 1968 and 1971, head cheerleader was a student-elected position – an alumni head cheerleader still didn’t exist. In 1970, another set of UCLA elections were going to take place to fill the vacant spot.A student-athlete on the men’s rowing team at the time, Strand fulfilled his work-study requirement shagging balls and picking up towels for the UCLA men’s basketball team under coach John Wooden.Strand said that after practice one afternoon, Wooden encouraged him to run for the office.

“He basically said, ‘Geof, I think you ought to do this,’ and it was a casual comment,” Strand said. “John and I were not close, but he knew me. He knew what my philosophy was.”

At his desk, Strand adjusted the American flag band pinned on his shirt.

“I thought it was – I know it sounds goofy – but I honestly thought it was kind of my patriotic duty,” Strand said.

The election for head cheerleader took place against the backdrop of the Civil Rights Movement. Los Angeles had hosted the 1960s movement and Bruins were in the middle of it all. Student activists “(threw) Molotov cocktails at the men’s gym at UCLA and (held) protest movements,” according to Strand.

Positive changes were happening in an ugly way in Los Angeles, and the platforms that were meant for sports were being used for political efforts.

“I wanted to go back to a positive, kind of flag-waving operation,” Strand said.

Strand was the last UCLA student to ever be elected as head cheerleader.

“People want to support a positive orientation. They don’t want to hear people dissing things.They want to hear, ‘Welcome to the family.Hey, this is a positive environment. Let’s feel good and make something positive out of it.’ So, even back then, I realized that my goal was to make people feel like they were part of the team,” Strand said.

That “family” Strand envisioned would become the “Bruin family” known today. Strand took up Donahue’s offer and became UCLA’s first – and last – alumni head cheerleader five years after he received his degree from the university.

When Strand was first dubbed as UCLA alumni head cheerleader in 1976, the Bruin fandom of today essentially did not exist. In the winter of ’76, Strand met up with former UCLA football coach Jerry Long and other “big alumni.”

“We all said the same thing,” Strand said. “(That) there’s no real Bruin family organization. We didn’t have a support group (at the time). We didn’t have a pregame party.We didn’t have much of anything.”

Thirty-eight years later, that has all changed.

“Geof brought back the 8-clap and he made it a raucous, fun time to be in the stands,” said third-generation alumnus Scott Fellows. “I do remember hearing the 8-clap back in the ’50s, but it sort of went by the wayside in the ’60s and Geof brought it back.”

It didn’t change overnight, however.At the time, UCLA football shared its home stadium with USC at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

“We met up at Paul Griffin’s house,” Strand said, as he recalled the small group of alumni he teamed up with in 1976. “I stapled a bunch of blue papers all around the Coliseum and (the flyers) said, ‘New Tradition: UCLA’s tailgate party outside on the grass of tunnel 23.’”

Little by little, after the introduction of several spirited groups dedicated to rallying up Bruin pride, UCLA alumni and other locals started showing up to support the football team.

“I’d probably bet we had no more than 100 people that came by (to the first tailgate), but the next game there were 200, and the next game there were 400, and the next game we got the spirit squad to come out,” Strand said. “And then we had a crowd. So, that’s how we started. We started at the dirt level.”

Fellows, who is known for bringing his homemade “infamous killer chili” to Lot H tailgates at the Rose Bowl, said that Strand’s 38 years of dedication to UCLA are “unequal in the history of just about anybody that does this.”

Strand’s legacy left an impact on many, including season-ticket holder Mark Anderson, who commuted from Sacramento for the UCLA vs. ASU game Saturday. Anderson said one of the main reasons he flew into Los Angeles to attend the tailgates was “because of Geof Strand and that alumni section.”

At the game against the Sun Devils, Strand couldn’t be heard over the booming music from the student section, but the alumni section was listening.The Bruin alumni heard and followed his every lead, screaming at the top of their lungs every time he shot up his “But Now” sign.UCLA alumni and other Bruin fans paid for their field-level seat to follow the four-decade-old routine, and Saturday they would do so for the last time.

“It’s an end of an era,” said UCLA associate athletic director Scott Mitchell. “And Geof was a unique presence that helped build UCLA’s fan base.”

Web.sp.11.24.insert.strand.picA.jpg
Alumni cheerleader Geoffrey Strand led his final cheer Saturday night, as the Arizona State game was his last. Strand will retire after this season.
Courtesy of Geoff Strand

The “era” that Mitchell spoke of is the era in which a man like Strand can lead a crowd of Bruins with just one megaphone.UCLA’s Jumbotron boasted about its impressive crowd count Saturday night, a crowd that appeared difficult for the 66-year-old cheerleader to lead – even with a microphone. Screens and loudspeakers designed to entertain massive crowds are the new head cheerleaders in today’s electronic generation.

“I’m not sure that what I do fits with the new unified, electronically driven mass communication vehicles that we have (anymore),” Strand said.

Ten minutes into UCLA’s halftime show, after high school bands performed, Mitchell stood on a platform and thanked the UCLA icon in the blue and gold hat for the decades of service he’s given to the Bruin community.Following Mitchell’s speech and a photographic slideshow tribute, a sea of blue erupted with cheers, saluting Strand for all that he’s given to the university.With his image on the big screen, Strand took the microphone and led the current students, alumni and fans alike in a unified 8-clap over the very loudspeaker responsible for his retirement.

At halftime, what he and his a small group of alumni envisioned in Griffin’s living room 38 years ago stood right there before his eyes: an undivided Bruin family, proud to be wearing blue and gold.

But Strand is ready to go.

“The game has changed,” he said, “It’s much more TV-oriented, much more corporate-oriented, and it’s just time. Things are moving on.”

Back in his office three days earlier, Strand seemed to predict the very words Bruins would need to hear after Saturday’s loss against Arizona State and focused on the positive: UCLA ticket sales don’t drop when Bruins lose, Strand pointed out.

“Our people are loyal, more so than people across town,” he said. “And that’s what makes me proud – the character of the people.”

Strand’s pride, according to Anderson, manifests itself in a variety of ways.

“He passes out his little United States flag pins and he’s just a huge supporter of the university,” Anderson said.

Up until his retirement, Strand always purchased his own season passes – but UCLA gifted the alumnus with season tickets for life. Strand said his wife is looking forward to watching the games with him for a change.

“I don’t know how (sitting in the stands) will be – I have not sat and watched a game. Think about it.Thirty-eight years I’ve been on the sidelines, so I don’t know,” Strand said.

Anderson and Fellows said they fear how Strand’s stepping down from the podium will affect the Bruin community.

“I think there’s going to be a disconnect where a lot of people were pulled together,” Anderson said. “Geof was the canthus for pulling all that together, reaching out to people.”

Back in his office, Strand wasn’t wearing his blue and gold newsboy hat, but he was wearing a navy blue one, styled exactly the same. With a UCLA helmet sitting on a shelf behind him, Strand said that he felt lucky to have been able “to give back to the school that gave (him) the opportunity to develop an attitude that has made (him).”

The retired UCLA alumni head cheerleader leaned forward and adjusted a small bin back into its place on his desk. It was filled with American flag pins just like the one he was wearing on his V-neck, navy blue and golden beige argyle sweater.

Even with the unknown that lies ahead for the Bruin community, it appears that some things will never change.

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Bianca Hock
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