From the archives: A history of the now-famous Wildcat hand sign

Posted August 10, 2023

Wildcat hand sign

If you hop on social media on a K-State game day, you’ll find plenty of group photos of fans dressed in purple, either at a tailgate or in the stands, posing as they prepare to cheer on the ’Cats to victory. And in many of those photos, you’ll likely spot those fans displaying the famous Wildcat hand sign. 

The claw-like gesture forms the “W” and “c” of the word “Wildcat” and has become a favorite way for fans to display their K-State pride. 

As we all get hyped for the upcoming football season, we decided to dig back into our archives and share the story of how this now-beloved hand sign got its start. [Fun fact: This article, which originally appeared in the fall 2012 issue of our member-exclusive K-Stater magazine, was written by then recent grad Tim Schrag ’12, who is now the editor of the K-Stater.]

It’s Saturday in Bill Snyder Family Stadium. In attendance are 50,000 purple-clad K-Staters cheering for a Wildcat victory. K-State leads by a field goal. It’s second down from the Wildcat 30. The opposing team has the ball. The opponent needs 6 yards for a first down. A roar has consumed the sports complex and can be heard as far as Westloop Plaza. Down in the student section, the drum line lays down a beat simply called Zeppelin. Students in the front rows — the ICat and GA areas — pound on the railings while the rest of those in the student section raise their right arms in the air and quickly drop them to the clang of the cymbals. They mimic a vocal riff from Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song. The opposing team snaps the ball. K-State sacks the quarterback for a loss of 5 yards. It’s now third down and the drum line is playing faster. The crowd has gotten louder. Fans all across the stadium have raised their arms to the beat and also have begun to mimic the riff. A rookie band member looks out at the crowd and notices something: The fans have arranged their hands to look somewhat like a claw. She asks a veteran member of the Pride what they are doing, and he responds, “They are making the Wildcat hand sign.”

For Kristen Eck Hodgkinson ’13, this was a real scenario. [Editor’s note: At the time of the article’s publication, Hodgkinson was a senior in elementary education.]

“Everything is so new and you’re just running around like crazy and you hope that you get into your spot. The drums start playing Zeppelin and then you see everybody’s hands go up. You turn to your section leaders or the vets standing next to you, and they show you how to make the Wildcat and you pump it and it’s awesome,” she said.

Hodgkinson, who also served as an assistant drum major for the K-State Marching Band, said the hand sign was her default pose when cameras came her way.

Hand signs in football date back to the 1950s with origins in Texas. The most well-known being Hook ’em Horns for the University of Texas, but travel across Texas, and you will find others such as Gig ’em in College Station, the Horned Frog in Fort Worth, Sic ’em Bears in Waco and Guns Up in Lubbock.

K-State’s Wildcat hand sign has been around since the mid-2000s and caught on quickly.

Frank Tracz, director of bands and professor of music, said the idea of the Wildcat hand sign came about spontaneously as the result of the band playing Zeppelin.

“I heard that drum beat and the singing and I thought, ‘Man, this would be a great cheer,’ so we brought it back, wrote it out and had the drums do it and the band sing it,” Tracz said. “Then all of a sudden they started with their fists and then pretty soon I turn around and they’re doing something with the ‘W’ and the ‘c’ and I couldn’t quite make it out. To tell the truth I had to ask the band what they were doing … and then I look around and the student section is doing it.”

Much like the hand sign, the dance associated with the Wabash Cannonball sprung up somewhere from the band and has taken on a life of its own.

“This Wabash thing started when there was nobody in the stands, so there was nobody to do that dance. And now all you need is those first couple measures of the drums and everybody knows,” Tracz said.

Tracz also said the band is always looking for new things to implement into its arsenal of songs to rev up the crowd. The ones that get the fans involved tend to stay in the lineup.

“That’s (the band’s) role,” he said. “I think we have to keep things going, and the difficult thing for us is that we’re affected by the same psychological ups and downs that every normal fan is and it’s difficult to cheer and play the fight song when things aren’t going your way and it just affects everybody. You just have to keep it positive and keep it going. And no matter how far we’re down, we’re going to come back and win this thing.”

Today the Wildcat hand sign has gone from something used at football games to a constant in K-State pictures.

“It’s a way you cheer and exhibit pride in your university and something special and unique to us,” Hodgkinson said.

>>>Don’t forget to tag us in your game day photos this fall! 

Wildcat hand sign