USC athletic director Lynn Swann signed his name to a decision back in the fall that ultimately removed the famous Song Girls cheerleaders from home basketball games for the rest of the 2018-19 college basketball season.
The decision was jointly made in November by the Trojans’ athletic department and the Division of Student Affairs. However, with Saturday’s rivalry game against UCLA and an extensive story on the Song Girls’ departure in The Los Angeles Times, that decision is under fire as alumni and school supporters have grown disgruntled.
Instead of the Song Girls performing during home games, the Trojan Dance Force — a dance and hip-hop group created in 1994 — is the sole performing act supporting the men’s and women’s basketball teams. In a school statement provided to The Times, USC cited busy scheduling as its primary reason for removing the Song Girls from basketball games altogether.
“Due to ongoing game management concerns, time constraints and space issues at the Galen Center, the USC Song Girls will not perform at the remaining men’s and women’s basketball games for the 2018-19 season,” the statement read, noting that the decision was made “after trying various options over multiple years to accommodate both the Song Girls and the Trojan Dance Force … at the arena.”
Hilary Hodgkins, the Song Girls’ alumni adviser, told The Times of her continued frustration: “I don’t feel I’ve gotten an adequate explanation. And when I ask, I get stonewalled. I don’t understand it. I wish I could answer this question: For the life of me, it makes no sense to me why athletics is even worried about a dance team.
“I’ve been going to USC sports since I was 2, and it just keeps getting more corporate and more corporate and more corporate, and it’s difficult. The university is steeped in tradition and the Song Girls are part of that tradition.”
The Times and other media outlets pointed out the peculiar timing of the decision to sideline the Song Girls, which puts a major microscope on Swann, who made the controversial choice last fall to retain football coach Clay Helton despite an outcry from the fanbase and boosters wanting Helton fired; a paid banner was flown over L.A. Coliseum demanding Helton’s ouster. During USC’s home game against Notre Dame last year, according to spectators, a portion of the Song Girls engaged in a popular “fire Helton” chant.
The Song Girls, a group that usually consists of 12 members who cheer during home football and basketball games, have been around for the past five decades and are largely associated with the Trojans’ athletic brand (men’s basketball coach Andy Enfield posed with Song Girls during his hiring in 2013). USC’s Dec. 1 game this season marked the first time since 1968 that the Song Girls hadn’t been on the sidelines.
“I would like to see some greater communication between the athletic department and the USC Song Girls,” Charlene Zettel, a founding member of the Song Girls in 1968, told The Times. “And I would hope that the university recognizes that when young people put their hearts into participating in an athletic program or these spirit programs that there are so many lessons learned and they’re life-changing. So don’t minimize these opportunities. Celebrate them.”