Cal spirit: the road toward the Big Game

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Boom. Boom. This is the sound of Oski’s funeral procession at the junior college across the bay. It’s Monday of Big Game Week, and Stanford University’s marching band, dressed in all black, forces a stuffed teddy bear — meant to represent Oski — inside a small coffin to await his slaughter at Claw Fountain. There, he is left, destroyed and helpless, for the entirety of the week.

The picture is a little bit different at UC Berkeley. Our spirit team — consisting of Cal Cheerleading, Cal Dance, mic men,  the UC Rally Committee and, of course, Oski — opens Big Game Week along with Cal Band by hopping on a cable car in San Francisco to sing songs to our alma mater, the blue and gold of their uniforms shining brightly under the Californian sun.

Seems carefree and spontaneous, right? But, to be effortless requires effort. The Cable Car Rally, along with the host of other spirit-related activities leading up to the Big Game, require an intense amount of dedication to pull off. As the Big Game approaches, UC Berkeley’s spirit team mobilizes to ensure that halftime performances and Big Game Week events go off without a hitch.

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Big Game Week at UC Berkeley is largely made possible by the coordination and leadership of the UC Rally Committee. Many members, such as Rally Committee chair Derek Schatz, have devoted their time and energy to the committee since freshman year. Membership for Rally Committee is based on volunteer participation, and attendance at its weekly meetings is not mandatory — yet the 100 active members of the committee are somehow able to unite for Big Game Week.

“It’s our big moment, and even though people have responsibilities, they are incredibly motivated because they know how important it is,” Schatz said. “It’s in the culture of our university, and it has been that way for a very long time.”

Attempt to get a glimpse into the team’s inner workings, however, and you will be disappointed. The committee is extremely secretive about the way it functions — especially during Big Game Week — and it is proud of it.

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“We’re behind the scenes, literally and figuratively,” Schatz said. From overseeing the lighting of UC Berkeley landmarks such as Sather Gate, Doe Library and the Campanile with the university’s emblematic blue and gold to organizing the bonfire rally at the Greek Theatre, Rally Committee quietly spearheads UC Berkeley’s most popular Big Game traditions. “The bonfire rally is so ingrained in the identity of our university … Besides commencement, I don’t think there is another event on campus that has largely been unchanged in its meaning and significance,” Schatz said.


While Rally Committee takes center stage during Big Game Week preparations, other members of UC Berkeley’s spirit team show their dedication in other ways. In February, while you were starting to study for your first round of spring semester midterms, the Cal Band was working on deciding what songs to use for its halftime Big Game performance in November. Band members are encouraged to submit what they refer to as “cut tapes,” or four- to seven-minute sets of arranged songs. Usually, about 47 cut tapes are submitted. Tyler Kimball, the band’s student director, and David Stranchan-Olson, the drum major, then make these cut tapes accessible by uploading them to a “members only” website so that band members are able to provide feedback and vote on their favorite arrangements. This process lasts for approximately three months.

The band will begin to learn its spots and perfect its routine for halftime during its practices at Memorial Stadium one week before the Big Game. This requires about 10 hours of practice per week and an additional six hours of practice prior to the game.

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“But there isn’t any hassle in making people go to these things. You get to play in front of a lot of people, and it’s energizing and exciting,” said sophomore Christopher Mullaney, who has been a member of Cal Band for two years. “A lot of members dye their hair blue. That’s a thing.”


In July, UC Berkeley’s cheerleading team begins its own preparations for the Big Game. Usually, the Cal Band chooses and sends the songs the team will perform during the Big Game halftime show. Then, it is up to the coaches and captains to decide on the routine.

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“We do more impressive things as the games continue,” said sophomore cheerleader Kristine Paulson. “Especially for Big Game. We want to prove that even Cal Cheerleading is better than Stanford’s.”

Repetition, repetition, repetition. This is the phrase the team lives by. “We’ll do a routine about 50 times, until we feel comfortable … and if we don’t, we’ll do it again,” Paulson said. But while the commitment seems overwhelming, the members of Cal Cheerleading display a similar resilience that the Cal Band shares.

“The Big Game performance can be a little scary for us, but it’s an adrenaline rush — and it’s so fun,” Paulson said.


Sidney Dimova, a member of the Cal Dance Team, expresses sentiments similar to Paulson’s. “Each game’s performance becomes harder and harder … and the Big Game’s routine requires the most precision on our part … the most stamina, energy and technique,” Dimova said.

The 16 members of UC Berkeley’s dance team dedicate approximately 18 hours during Big Game Week practicing for their halftime performance. Their afternoon rehearsals at Haas Pavilion are often recorded so that the dancers can refresh their memories the night before the Big Game. But their halftime performance is more than just a representation of the team’s technical skills and dance expertise — it is a reflection of the growth of their dynamics as a team and as a family.

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“The synchronization needed for the Big Game’s halftime routine could only be accomplished once we trusted each other,” Dimova explained.


As the dance and cheerleading teams perform their routines, Cal’s group of four mic men will be performing their own. “In terms of big MC events, you’ve got the People’s Choice Awards and the Oscars,” said mic men coach Matt del Bonta, who also served as a campus mic man in 1996. “Big Game is the Oscars.”

But the way the four mic men — Spencer Bowen, Isaac Williams, Matt Ha and Tate Halfman — prepare for their Big Game debut is distinctly unique. Rather than meeting to practice their performances, they gather two to three times per week leading up to the Big Game to discuss logistics, techniques and strategies that will help them maintain energy and confidence.

“The voice and throat are the most important things for mic men, so you don’t want to overwork them,” del Bonta explained. “There’s a lot of hardcore yelling involved on Big Game Day, and they don’t really need to practice — it comes naturally to them.”

The success of mic men relies, more than anything, on effective teamwork. Thankfully, this group has been lucky. “They get along really well, which hasn’t always been the case in the past with other mic men,” del Bonta said. The team has united under a shared love for UC Berkeley — a drive unlike any other.

“It’s something special … they understand the enormity of what happens on Big Game and during that performance,” del Bonta said.


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At Stanford, Big Game Week ends with a performance of a short play that displays Stanford’s “superiority” to UC Berkeley. Two years ago, the play was about a high school couple, deeply in love. Alas, one went to Stanford and the other to UC Berkeley. But their relationship was suddenly shaken when a kiss switched their bodies – think “Freaky Friday.” Once the girl, originally the UC Berkeley student, experienced life at Stanford inside her boyfriend’s body, she refused to return to UC Berkeley. And as the curtain closed, a stream of naked students stormed the stage.

At UC Berkeley, Big Game Week ends with a longlasting tradition — the bonfire rally at the Greek Theatre. Because it’s such a highly anticipated and spirit-filled event, many students would never dream of missing the rally.

“I had mono when I went to my first bonfire rally,” said Zac Commins, a member and public relations director of Cal Band, “I was tired. I had swollen lymph nodes and a fever.” But Commins still attended the rally, performing with his fellow bandmates and watching the flames rise into the air. When asked why he didn’t just stay home: “Big Game … the band, the university … was too important for me to quit.”

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Contact Sofia Gonzales-Platas at [email protected] .