WESTERN FRONT: 77 years old and still cheering
Oct. 25, 2013
BELLINGHAM, Wash. -
By Mallorie Estenson, The Western Front
For more Western Front stories visit westernfrontonline.net - Twice-weekly student newspaper of Western Washington University
When Western Washington University's women's soccer team left Bellingham on Thursday morning, Oct. 17, to play Saint Martin's University in Lacey, Wash., 77-year-old Ron Higginbotham and his wife, Emily, went to Civic Field to say goodbye and wish the team a good trip. Higginbotham does not have a daughter or a granddaughter on the team.
Higginbotham is the self-described head cheerleader of both Western's men's and women's soccer teams.
Higginbotham's fandom began in April 1999 when he would stop to watch Western's soccer teams practice on the way to a leadership meeting, where he was working with a student group. He ended up following both soccer teams for the rest of the season.
Eventually, Higginbotham invited the team to his house for an appreciation dinner. He remembers one of the players turned to him as she was leaving and asked him if he did this every year.
"Yes, but this is the first one," he said.
Fourteen years later, the tradition remains.
"I try to build soccer community relationships," Higginbotham said.
Once in a while, a parent from the opposing team will walk by and ask about Higginbotham's relationship to the team. The first question asked is usually whether he has a family member on the team or not. When they learn he doesn't, they ask if he is paid to do this.
"You couldn't pay me to do this. I do it because I love it," Higginbotham said. "I think the players know I love it, too."
Of his own accord, Higginbotham stood in Red Square from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to invite students to the highly anticipated game against rival Seattle Pacific University on Oct. 3.
Higginbotham recalls the place being packed for the rivalry game. Students love to turn out for big rivalries like that, he said.
"We love the men's and the women's teams," Higginbotham said. "They are both so good."
Higginbotham shows he really cares by attending nearly every home game, sophomore Uche Ugwoaba, who plays for Western's men's soccer team, said.
Higginbotham has cheers for every player on the team in addition to crowd-involving chants, Vikings men's soccer player Keegan Rogers said.
"He's just a great guy, he's very fun to talk to and always finds a way to connect with players," Rogers said.
Ugwoaba described one of the cheers modeled after an Allstate commercial in which a man sits at a table with a group of children asking them questions along the lines of, "What's better, this or that?" Higginbotham's version includes varieties such as, "What's better, a rainy day or sunshine? What's better, 10 bucks or one buck?" When Higginbotham asks which is better, the Vikings or their opposition, the audience cheers for the Vikings.
"He gets the fans and the audience more engaged in the game," Rogers said. Higginbotham had a Vikings flag made and has incorporated it into Vikings soccer tradition: each time a Vikings' player scores, a freshman player will run the flag along the sideline. If it's a men's game, Higginbotham will volunteer a freshman from the women's team and if it's a women's game he will recruit the rookie from the men's team to run the flag.
"Some of them get a big kick out of it. It adds a lot of fun," Higginbotham said. "It has been an exciting time for me."
Higginbotham has been to three weddings of former athletes and once performed a wedding between two former Vikings players.
One of Higginbotham's granddaughters plays soccer for Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia, on a scholarship. When the Vikings played Trinity Western in an exhibition game early in the season, Higginbotham left his signature flag in the car.
"I didn't want to bring the flag because I was cheering for one team while my granddaughter was on the other team."
Higginbotham could not be more happy with his position.
"If you told me when I was in high school that at age 77 I would be the head cheerleader for two college soccer teams and loving every minute of it, I would have never believed it," he said.
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