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Searching for Oskee

Opinion by John Best

Watching Sunday Today with Willie Geist (One of the best broadcasters on TV in my opinion), I was somewhat surprised to hear Willie, in discussing the NCAA football win by the Illinois Fighting Illini Saturday, concluding by calling out, “Oskie Wow wow”–not far off the Hamilton Tiger Cats’ Oskie Wee Wee. I got to wondering about this Oskie business. It turns out the Illinois usage of the term dates back to the turn of the last century although its exact origin is unclear, However, the use of these seemingly nonsense words is part of a long tradition in the early days of college sports.

At the University of Illinois Oskee Wow Wow was enshrined in a song written in 1911 by two Illinois students, Howard Green and Harold Hill. The lyrics go:

Old Princeton yells her tiger

Wisconsin her varsity

And they give the same old Rah!

Rah! Rah!

At each university

But the yell that always thrills me

And fills my heart with joy

Is the good old Oskee-wow-wow

That they yell at Illinois

Oskee-wow-wow, Illinois

Our eyes are all on you

Oskee-wow-wow, Illinois

Wave your Orange and Blue, Rah! Rah!

When your team trots out before you

Ev’ry man stand up and yell

Back the team to gain a victory

Oskee-wow-wow, Illinois

Legend has it that the University California Berkley adopted the term around 1910 after their football team was defeated by Illinois and the crowd was heard chanting the Oskee Wow wow yell. Berkley went one step further, creating the mascot Oski, the Bear in 1941, which continues in that role today.

UC Berkley mascot Oski the Bear

The lyrics for the UC Berkley version go:

Oski Wow-Wow!

Whiskey Wee-Wee!

Olee! Muckie-eye!

Olee! Berkeley-eye!

California! Wow!

Gotta love Whiskey.

The original Pigskin Pete leading the Oskee Wee Wee cheer Picture: Hamilton Public Library

It’s not clear how the term migrated to Hamilton, but the Oskee Wee Wee cheer  was first used at a Hamilton Tigers football game in 1921. Back then, there were two teams in Hamilton — the Tigers, for which the chant was intended, and the Wildcats. They merged in 1950 to become the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. In a way, though, Hamilton has done more to maintain the Oskee We We tradition than the American college originators as it remains a verbal chant shared by the fans. In the case of Illinois and Berkley, their versions are normally performed as marching band instrumentals with no singing of the words.

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