Tradition of the TCU hand sign

Whether walking to class or traveling abroad, you never know when one of your friends or a fellow TCU fan will give you the famous frog hand sign.

Texas is full of collegiate hand signs to represent their mascots and school spirit: The University of Texas with “Hook’em Horns”, Texas A&M University’s Gig’em thumb, Baylor University’s bear claw, and the list goes on.

“Some Texas’ hand signs have been around longer than others but they all serve as unifying outward expressions of inner emotions and ties,” said TCU Instructor and and Assistant to the Dean of Admissions James Atwood, who has been at TCU since 1982. “Before we had the frog hand sign we had Addie the frog and “Riff Ram” as spirit traditions.”

There was a boom in the number of Texan hand signs in the late 20th century, says “Texas Monthly” reporter Paul Burka. It all started with A&M graduate Pinky Downs yelling “Gig’em Aggies!” with his thumb in the air as a sign for frog hunting during a yell practice before the 1930 TCU vs. A&M football game.

Burka says in his article, “For a quarter of a century after Pinky Downs’s moment of inspiration, the Aggies had a monopoly on official gestures.”

That was until 1955 when a UT cheerleader, Harley Clark, who died last week at age 78, came up with a hand sign that looked like the head of a longhorn before a TCU vs. UT football game. The sign took a while to work its magic as TCU won the game 47-20.

Some Horned Frog students, such as sophomore strategic communication major Alex Harrington, believe TCU’s signature hand gesture dates back for decades, like many of the other schools in Texas.

“I think our hand sign has been around for about 50 years,” Harrington said when asked how old she thought the sign is.

It turns out that the sign is one of the newest arrivals in Texas hand sign history, entering TCU culture in the year 1980, said current TCU cheer captain Delaney Dalton.

Burka says the TCU sign originated in 1980 on the way to a cheer camp in Tennessee. The cheerleaders at the time experimented with the UT sign by lowering the pinky and index finger, but they did not like how they could be presented as “half of the horns”.

“A male cheerleader came up with the current TCU sign by switching the pinky with the middle finger,” Dalton said.

The sign is seen by some to look like a frog and by others as just a unique sign for TCU, Dalton said.

Harrington said she can visualize certain characteristics of TCU’s mascot when she sees the sign.

“I look at the sign and see the finger nails as the frog’s eyes and the tops of the tops of the fingers as the horns of the frog,” Harrington said. “I don’t really see a frog when I see the sign, but I do see it as being unique to TCU.”

Dalton said she sees the sign used all the time for many purposes. It can be used as a greeting or leaving sign, a cheer in celebration, or a recovery sign after a fall in cheerleading.

“We throw the Frog if we have a misstep or stumble to recover, and show the fans we won’t let anything get us down about the Frogs,” Dalton said.

Harrington said she likes the frog sign despite not using it frequently in her daily life, saying that it boosts the school spirit that is important at TCU.

Dalton echoed her sentiment.

“I love having fans, students, athletes and alumni using the frog sign at the end of every sporting event during the alma mater,” Dalton said. “I think it connects us and shows our love for TCU.”