Sep 29, 2009

12th Man: Liberty starts new tradition

by James Begley

With football teams consisting of 11 players, some universities have adopted a tradition called “The 12th man,” which represents the team’s most valuable supporters: the student body itself. The seventh largest university in America, Texas A&M was the first school to develop the idea in 1922.

Inspired by an ex-athlete who attended one of A&M’s games, “he came to be thought of as the 12th Man because he stood ready for duty in the event that the 11 men on the gridiron needed assistance. That spirit of readiness for service, desire to support and enthusiasm helped kindle a flame of devotion among the entire student body — a spirit that has grown throughout the years. The entire student body at A&M is the 12th man, and they stand during the entire game to show their support. The 12th man is always in the stands waiting to be called upon if they are needed,” according to A&M’s Web site.

Liberty University has taken the idea to heart. When asked by Athletics Director Jeff Barber to draft a proposal to establish a similar tradition at Liberty, Athletic Marketing Assistant Allen Sparks and a group of others went right to work. After Barber placed his finishing touches on the project, Liberty’s newest athletic tradition was born.

“Barber brought the 12th man to Liberty as a way to recognize our fan base and its importance to team success,” Sparks said. “The Seattle Seahawks did something very similar. The concept of being loud and unified is what the 12th man symbolizes.”

“What a success!” shouted Sparks. “The 12th man really brought out the cheers we were seeking at Saturday’s game.”

At the tailgate parties prior to the Sept. 12 game, the most creative, active and excited students were scouted to partake in the 12th man display.

“Each hall has its own seven to eight representatives, and the winning dorm, judged by their level of support, will have the privilege of carrying the 12th man flag around the field,” Sparks said.

“It was incredible!” 12th man participant Josiah McClure said. “We were awarded the opportunity at the Chancellor’s Cookout during Freshman Week. We got all painted up and met in the Hancock Center 30 minutes before the game. It was such an adrenaline rush to be considered the first students in LU history to perform this event.”

Participant Sean Philpott also expressed his gratitude.

“The marching band aligned in two rows in front of the tunnel. All eight of us then ran out, waving the 12th man flag all the way down and around the field, followed by the cheerleaders carrying the Liberty flag and then the football players greeted by mist and giant flames. It was awesome.” Philpott said. “Then we regrouped with our dorm in the front row of the stands. We also got to keep the 12th man flag as a souvenir!”

At the game, Sparks approached Leo Howell, a member of school’s fan club, “LUnatics.” Howell, a sport management major, was pleasantly surprised at Sparks’s request for eight group members to participate in the 12th man next game.

“He asked if we would like to run the flags for the James Madison game,” Howell said. “We were totally honored because we knew this performance was only meant to privilege the dorms, but Sparks said this was to reward us for all our hard work.”

Contact James Begley at

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