Card stunt sections have been around for over 100 years.
By Robert A. David
A milestone in collegiate sports pageantry was reached in 2008 – the 100th anniversary of the first card stunt performed at the Cal-Stanford game in 1908. Throughout the years, over 1 million people have participated in flipping cards at football games. In the heyday of the 1950s, almost 30 colleges had card stunts performed during football games. Today, there are only 5 schools that carry on this colorful tradition. Card stunts are also now performed at many different sporting events.
Collegiate card stunt sections are a student activity usually performed during the halftime intermission of home football games. Participation is on a voluntary basis by the students. Usually coordinated with the marching band and cheerleading corps, these card stunt sections provide entertainment for the fans in the stadium with a view of the section. An entire seating section turns from masses of unrelated colors to intricate and entertaining designs as pictured. On rare occasions, schools will take a smaller student section and travel to a rival’s stadium to perform card stunts. Card stunt committees are independent student organizations, with 10 to 100 students, and run the operations of the section before, during and after the performance.
Card stunt sections first appeared on campus around the turn of last century. These special cheering sections were organized to be potent forces in sideline enthusiasm. Student committees composed of hard-working individuals plan, supervise and help execute the card stunts.
The cards are usually made of colored cardboard – with a different color on each side – to maximize the color palette for the card stunt designers. Through the years, plastic and wood have been used. Cards have ranged in size from 12” x 12” to 16” x 20” – typical is 14” x 14”. Most schools use anywhere from 2 to 12 colors. Some form of Public Address (PA) system is used to communicate and coordinate the stunts at the games.
Card stunts are done during the sunny daytime. Some schools have to cancel planned stunts if the weather elements (rain, snow, freezing cold, wind) are a factor that could ruin the cards themselves. Some schools have innovated with nighttime stunts using flashlights and colored gel cards.
Before 1960, stunt designs and instructions were done by hand. Each stunt was designed on grid paper and then transferred to an instruction card. After the arrival of mainframe computers on campus, designs were inputted and instructions were printed out onto small strips of paper that could be held and read. In the 1980s, microcomputers were used for these tasks.
History of Collegiate Card Stunt Sections by Robert A. David, Copyright 2009. All rights reserved. Card stunt sections can be within a single stadium seating section, in horizontal or vertical formats, or can extend across aisles into multiple sections. To fill in the steps, extra students are reassigned to sit in the aisles so that no gaps appear in the card stunts. Most sections will have anywhere from 500 to 2,000 students participating.
While students are seated, they are given instructions to hold the cards underneath their noses on an angle to match the angle of the stadium seating to help ensure that the picture is recognizable. In recent years, most do not necessarily follow this advice. During a halftime performance, anywhere from 10 to 30 stunts will be shown. Most of the time, a simple logo or picture will be shown. Occasionally, students will be asked to perform more complicated stunts requiring them to follow instructions to flip their cards on cue from the card stunt leader. An example of this might be the raising of the American flag up a pole or the spelling out of the school’s name. Or for a 3D effect, students could be asked to stand up to have the logo stand out from the background. The main reasons that card stunt sections are disbanded include apathy and rowdiness. If the team doesn’t win and students don’t come to games, then cheering sections can suffer with absenteeism. Partial pictures just don’t excite fans and committees doing the hard work. Secondly, if students refuse to follow instructions, throw cards, etc., the committee or school administration can close down the card sections.
The Early Days: The predecessor of card stunts colorfully premiered at the 1904 Cal-Stanford Big Game. Both rally committee sides appeared in shirts or capes in a designated color – blue and gold for Cal, and red and white for Stanford.
Card sections are somewhat unique to schools with strong football traditions and mostly confined to the Big Ten and Pacific Athletic Conference. In 1958, there was even a “First Annual Big Ten Card Section Conference” held at the Univ. of Illinois that included all of the Big Ten schools, except Wisconsin and Indiana.
The first card stunts were done at the University of California – Berkeley in 1908. These stunts only showed a ‘single frame’ of a picture. In 1922, Lindley Bothwell brought animation to card stunts at USC. He equipped the Trojan rooting section with 4 cardboard cards, 2 colors per card (black/white and cardinal/gold). He personally hand stamped the instruction cards. The first stunt spelled out T-R-O-J-A-N, one letter at a time. There was no PA system in those years – just megaphones – and Lindley had an extremely loud voice. For the Trojan animation, Bothwell moved his hands in the direction he wanted the students to flip cards in.
Bothwell became a grad student at Oregon State University (OSU) in 1924 and immediately formed a card section. Again he had 4 colors (black/white and orange/lemon). The first animated stunt was the OSU Beaver smashing their opponent’s Yellow “O”. Bothwell also used items like crepe paper and confetti thrown in the air to give the stunts a 3D feel.
History of Collegiate Card Stunt Sections by Robert A. David, Copyright 2009. All rights reserved. From researching various university archives, the following information about card sections that were once in existence has been rediscovered.
Gone, But Not Forgotten
“Rambling Wreck Club” Operated in the early 1980s. Located on the 50-yard line (28 rows high x 16 seats across) for a total of 448 students. 2 plastic cards (black/red and white/gold) were passed out, and 4 to 5 stunts were performed each game.
The Mountaineers had a small card section of approximately 500 members during the 1950s.
Started in 1971, performed through the 1978 season, with 2,000 students, sections 29 – 30 on the east side of Owen Stadium. Each person was given five 11- by 14-inch cards with different colors on each side. Three minutes before halftime, the cards were distributed by over 100 students, whose job was to keep the section organized. Fans reported that the designs were sometimes unreadable and unrecognizable, and that students were not in unison when initiating their displays.
“Corn Cobs – Block N” Started in the 1930s with 1326 seats between the 45-yard lines. Discontinued in the 1970s.
State “Redbird Rooters” Was around from 1967 to 1969. Approximately 850 members between Sections D and E (26 rows x 30 seats). The Block was patterned after the Big 10’s Block I and West Coast blocks like the cheering section at UCLA.
Univ. of Chicago
Had some sort of pep section with capes during the 1930s when they played Big Ten teams.
Univ. of Iowa
“Hawk-I Pep Club” Started in 1955. Performed until 1959. Ranged in size between 900 (30 x 30) and 1,200 students. 6 colored cards (24 x 18 inches).
Univ. of Michigan
“Wolverines Club” Began in 1930 with 1,300 seats between the 40-yard lines underneath the press box. Had 1,350 (50 rows high by 27 seats across) students in the section during the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s (sections 25 and 26). Moved several times to different stadium locations.
History of Collegiate Card Stunt Sections by Robert A. David, Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
“Block N” Started 1952, disbanded in 1958 for card throwing. 8 color cards, purple and white capes. Between 800 and 1,000 members. 50 committee members.
University “Block P” Started in 1954 and operated during the 1970s. 968 students (22 rows high x 44 seats across in the bowl of Ross-Ade Stadium).
Operated in the late 1960s through the early 1970s. 26 rows high by 44 seats across for a total of 1,144 students. Had up to 1,700 students to ensure enough people to flash each game. Used computers to generate instructions, located on the 50-yard line.
“Gopher Rooter Club” Started in late 1920s and through the 1950s. Located on the 40-yard line (28 rows high x 27 seats across). Two cards were distributed for each game: one maroon and gold, and the other bearing the colors of the visiting team.
“Badger Block” Operated from 1953 to 1961. Located in Camp Randall Stadium between sections F and G. Wore red and white capes during the game. 32 rows high x 38 seats wide (1,200 students).
Cougars Operated in the 1940 and 1950 seasons. 47 rows high by 39 seats wide (1,000 students).
Sun Devils Operated in the late 1960s in Section U of the stadium. Used a computer to design stunts with 12 colored cards. The section ranged in size from 1,200 students up to 2,500 participants.
Univ. of Washington
Section run by the “Sundodgers” who reported to the student government. In the 1930s, wore white shirts and rooter’s caps. No PA system; used a long rope that was run up and down the aisle stairs to let students know when to flip their cards. 29 rows high by 63 seats side (approximately 1,800 students). Most famous for the 1961 Rose Bowl where Stunt 10 was changed: the word Caltech was exchanged for Husky, and the Beaver’s Head (Caltech mascot) for King Chinook’s head. It took the Caltech crew over 170 man hours of effort, since all 2,232 instruction cards had to be reprinted by hand!
First animated card stunt in 1924 with approximately 500 students. Performed infrequently over the next 30 years. Had a card section from 1958 to 1961. Section 4 and 5 (32 rows high by 60 seats wide) with 1,920 students. The weather in Oregon was not conducive to card stunt activity. Oregon had a card section in the 1930s. Due to weather conditions, never was able to get off the ground.
Only participated sporadically during the late 1950s. Stanford “Block S”
In 1904, Stanford used red and white capes to form an “S.” Operated a card stunt section from the 1920s to the 1970s. Normally performed only at UCLA, USC and the Big Game against Cal. Between 1,100 and 2,000 students used 6 cards each to perform up to 25 different stunts per game. Was one of the first to use computers in 1962 to program stunts. Perhaps Still Operating
Univ. of Texas – Austin
“Tejas Club” Began in 1925 with 800 students wearing white shirts and black bow ties. The students held up orange and white cards to form words and figures, such as the head of a bull (their mascot, BEVO, a longhorn steer). The Tejas Club took control in the 1960s. The flashcard section is currently 1,245 seats in size and uses two 12-inch by 12-inch cards for each seat: one orange and white, and the other red and blue. They usually perform six stunts at each home game.
Univ. of North Carolina
Started a section in 1948 at Kenan Stadium. In 1971, the group had 1800 seats between the 30- and 50-yard lines.
USC “Trojan Knights”
First stunts in 1921, a cardinal “T” with cards. In November 1956, the card section appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated. In the 1970s they had approximately 2,000 students perform stunts (50 rows deep, 26 seats high). In the 1980s, USC had a 4,000-member section, but their stunts were only done for 5 minutes during halftime at games that were televised or against important opponents such as UCLA or Notre Dame. At USC, most of the students in the card section weren’t there by choice. Only the people who fill the aisles between sections are student volunteers. The rest are there because they were assigned good seats (between the goal line and the 30-yard line on one side of the LA Coliseum), not because they volunteered for the card stunts.
University of Illinois
“Block I” Block I began as a pep club in 1910 with 150 members sitting in the stands of Illinois Field, equipped with megaphones and orange and blue capes. The card stunt section first appeared in the East Main stands of newly built Memorial Stadium in 1925. It was comprised of 420 students. During the period of 1939 to 1944, the Block I disbanded. It resumed in 1945, and in 1947 the block grew to 1,100 students. In 1954, the Illini doubled the size of the cheering section with an identical ‘mirrored’ section in the West Main stands, becoming the nation’s largest section. In 1954, 20th Century Fox came to the UI campus to take movies of the Block I, entitled “Stunts and Punts.” Illinois has used orange and blue capes to help the students form a “Block I” during the second quarter to the end of halftime. During the 1970s, the “West Block” disbanded and a single 1,100 member “East Block” was left. In 2006, the Block moved from its 45-yard line location to the North End Zone and was resized into a horizontal format of approximately 1,000 students.
“Block O” Ohio State started dealing in card sections in 1938. In its early beginnings, Block O only used scarlet and grey cards. In the 1950s, the section had 736 members and was located in Section 13A. Since 1967, it numbers 1,100 members who are seated in Sections 1A and 2A — the closed end of the Ohio State stadium horseshoe (with another, uncarded 400 in the surrounding seats). Each has five cards (10 different colors), 14 by 14 inches, with a different color on each side, and from a repertoire of 20 to 25 “flashes,” about 15 will be done between kickoff and early in the fourth quarter. Besides flashing cards, the Block maintains the University mascot, “Brutus the Buckeye,” and the official basketball cheering section, “Scarlet Fever.” Block O claims to be the first card-flashing section in the country to use a computer in aiding stunt design.
“Spartan Spirit Block” or “Block S” Started 1955 with 936 students between the 10- and 25-yard lines (east side of the stadium). Ten color cards with green and white capes. Resurrected in 1976 by the MSU Student Foundation, the block currently has approximately 1,200 students (plus 200 alternates). They will do up to 40 stunts per game (pre-game, between quarters and halftime), and they coordinate with the MSU Marching Band and cheerleaders.
First card stunts in 1925, used cards but there was no animation. In 1932, UCLA used animation via a series of panels telling a story. In 1935, UCLA was the first to use lights. One thousand students formed a hula girl swaying her hips amid palm trees to Walt Disney music. In 1953, students used flashlights and filter cards in 8 colors. These light and sound stunts were performed through the 1970s. Over 3,000 students participate in card stunts. At the 1954 Rose Bowl, the “UCLArama” section had 3,456 card holders, which became one of the biggest card stunt rooting sections on record at the time.
Univ. of California-Berkeley
In 1899, Cal rooters wore blue and gold rooter hats. In 1908, Cal became the first college ever to use cards in a rooting section to form a simple half-time picture sequence, but there was no animation. In 1920, Cal rooters introduced a flip stunt, the first on record. The cards first formed a small gold “C” on a blue background. The cards were flipped twice, and each time the “C” grew larger. In 1939, they had a coordinated a stunt with the band. With between 3,100 and 3,500 participants, Cal has the largest ‘full time’ section of its kind.
University of Southern California
The University of Southern California is a private, not-for-profit, nonsectarian, research university founded in 1880 with its main campus in Los Angeles, California. USC actively performs audience participation card stunts.
History of Collegiate Card Stunt Sections by Robert A. David, Copyright 2009. All rights reserved. About the author:
Robert David was chairperson of Block I at the University of Illinois in 1980. He has visited the card stunt sections at Ohio State, Michigan State, UCLA and UC-Berkeley and watched them perform. He authored the 1983 cover story in InfoWorld Magazine about the use of microcomputers in the design of card stunts. Robert also participated on the 1984 Olympic Card Stunt Committee run by Robert Jani Productions and currently resides in Northern California.
I’d like to acknowledge the help of University Archivists from around the country in gathering this research material.
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