Around a giant bonfire at Midnight Yell before a Texas A&M football game, the flames captivated 4-year-old Grant Castleberry more than the yells. Now a senior at Texas A&M, Castleberry holds one of the most coveted positions on campus: Head Yell Leader for the Aggies.
That night at the fire with his grandparents was when Castleberry learned of the tradition, but as he became more knowledgeable about Texas A&M sports, the thought of becoming a yell leader started to take root. After campaigning, nominations and an election, Castleberry was voted in as a junior.
“It’s a mind-blowing experience,” he said. “It’s a huge honor and a big privilege because you’re entrusted with carrying on these traditions of Texas A&M.”
Midnight Yell takes place Friday night before No. 19 Missouri plays at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Texas A&M.
According to the school Web site, the tradition began as “Yell Practice” back in 1907 when Texas A&M was a military school. Students from different companies got together after dinner to “learn heartily the old time pep.” The practice taught incoming students all of the yells and returning students any changes in the current ones.
It was in 1931 that Midnight Yell Practice became what it is today. Before the game against Texas, a group of cadets met in student Peanut Owen’s dorm room in Puryear Hall. Someone suggested that all of the freshmen should meet on the steps of the YMCA building at midnight. The cadets told senior yell leaders Horsefly Berryhill and Two Gun Parker what they wanted to do.
Although it could not officially be ordered, the freshmen were encouraged to show up. Knowledge of the event spread quickly. When freshmen started getting there, flares were lit in flower pots around the YMCA building, officially beginning the tradition.
Midnight Yell is now held the night before home games at Kyle Field. The five yell leaders lead the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band and the Twelfth Man, what the raucous Texas A&M crowd is known as, into the stadium. They lead the crowd in army yells, the school’s songs and tell the crowd how the Aggies will handily win the next day’s game.
Toward the end, the lights go out, and the Aggies are supposed to “mug down” (kiss) their dates. If they’re dateless, all they have to do is “flick their Bic.” As the story goes, the flames make it easier for two dateless people to find a kiss. That part of the yell ties into the tradition of “When One Aggie Scores, All Aggies Score.” When the Aggies score points in any form, fans in the student body who brought a date to the game kiss their date.
“I’ve got a real serious girlfriend, so I don’t think she’d be too happy if I took part in that,” Castleberry said with a laugh. “We’ve been together since my sophomore year and refrained from it when I was a freshman.”
The leaders, clad in white military-style uniforms with the maroon school logo on the chest, belt out the rehearsed yells with fans in the stadium during games. Castleberry’s favorite, “Farmers Fight,” deals with the agricultural history of the school.
If the Aggies win the game, a group of about 500 students known as “The Fish” run down onto the field with the goal of carrying off the Yell Leaders and throwing them in the Fish Pond across campus. The Yell Leaders try to run off and beat them to the pond, but the odds aren’t good.
“It’s about 500 against five, so we never really make it,” Castleberry said. “It may have happened once, but they usually catch us.”
Outside of football, which is a time commitment in itself, the Yell Leaders are actively a part of basketball, baseball and other sports.
“It’s really time consuming,” Castleberry said. “There’s usually something almost every night. But carrying out the traditions of A&M, I love it.”