Kyle Rosso, co-chair of Cal Poly’s official spirit squad, the Mustang Maniacs, recalled his most memorable Maniacs moment — the last game of the 2008 football season, which had not only the playoffs but the Great West title on the line.
“Cal Poly was having a fantastic season,” the history senior said. “We only lost two games that season this was our last game and it was the rivalry game between Cal Poly and UC Davis.”
With the game tied at 21-21 at halftime, Rosso and the rest of the Maniacs weren’t sure of the fate of the biggest rivalry of the season.
“With about five minutes left, we went over by the football team and waited until time ran out,” Rosso said.
Cal Poly pulled ahead with a final score of 51-28, officially sending the team to the playoffs and claiming the Great West title. Also on the line? The Golden Horseshoe, Cal Poly and UC Davis’ rivalry trophy, which had been in Davis’ hands the previous year.
“The team ran to the middle of the field, the fans are going crazy, the fans are chanting ‘Playoffs,’” Rosso said. “So (we) get the Golden Horseshoe trophy and the team is in the middle of the field with the Great West flag. Then (we) come onto the field and the football team turns around and sees that we have the trophy. They’re stoked, everybody has their hands just motioning, ‘Give me the trophy, I want it!’ We go over, we hand it to the football team, they sprint over to the student section and the students are going crazy and they all sing ‘Ride High’. It was just a fantastic night.”
Those moments are what the Maniacs are ultimately trying to create — student sections so loud you can’t hear yourself think, cheers every fan knows and bleachers covered in a sea of green. Now that they’re collaboration with Poly Reps — Cal Poly’s student representative program — the Maniacs might be on the right track to creating that experience for every sporting event.
The Maniacs have been around for approximately 10 years, forming after the termination of the previous spirit squad — the Running Thunder — due to questionable behavior during a Santa Barbara basketball game. The Maniacs popped up a few years after the incident and have been the only official Cal Poly spirit squad endorsed by Cal Poly Athletics. Essentially, it’s a mixture of a club and an organization, Rosso said.
“We’ve always had this awkward dual-citizenship between being a club and working with an already established thing on campus with Cal Poly Athletics,” Rosso said.
Club or not, the Maniacs take care of a lot more athletics-based events than just filling seats at games. In addition to leading sports crowds in loud cheers, the Maniacs take care of the P, organize road trips to away games, maintain rivalry trophies such as the Golden Horseshoe and fill the suit of Musty the mascot.
“It is hopefully more of a way of solidifying the Mustang Maniacs from year to year in terms of making sure it exists and has people to do things,” Rosso said.
Rosso said the Maniacs don’t have trouble getting people to attend the games, but organization has been a constant issue.
“It hasn’t been a problem having students show up for the events, it’s been more of a problem getting students involved in board positions,” Rosso said.
Rosso’s co-chair and president of Poly Reps, business administration senior Julian Wagner, said Cal Poly athletics saw Poly Reps as an outlet for more organized fan support.
“Athletics was looking to change it up a little bit and they viewed Poly Reps as a group that would be capable of putting time into it and making it something a little bit different and something a little bit more,” Wagner said. “Essentially this is just kind of a pilot year. We’re trying some new programs, changing it up a bit and kind of just seeing what we can do to make it better and have a packed house every single time one of our teams play.”
As far as changes go, the collaborative has started a $15 membership program, which offers members discounts around town as well as on the official Maniacs t-shirt.
“We’re just trying to give students something more to be excited about when it comes to sports,” Wagner said.
Wagner said the collaboration came about because the athletics department had noticed an influx of student support over the past few years.
“I think especially last year they saw the potential with Cal Poly students’ excitement for sports, especially with the Santa Barbara basketball game where Mott Gym sold out and we keep having record amounts of people at soccer games,” Wagner said. “So I think the past couple years it’s been getting bigger and bigger and it’s time to get a more structured program in place for the students to go to the games.”
Both Rosso and Wagner said that in 10 years time, Cal Poly could have fan sections as big and rowdy as those on ESPN — with die-hard, face-painted Maniacs flooding the seats.
“We want it to be the giant student sections you see at UCLA, USC, Notre Dame, things like that; all of those student sections are paid for and funded,” Rosso said.
Wagner said he always remembers being in the student section at UCLA basketball games before he was in college.
“When I was younger, my sister was at UCLA and she used to always sneak me into the student section during basketball games,” Wagner said. “There’s nothing (compared to) being in the student section on the floor at a UCLA-USC basketball game; it’s literally a life-changing experience. It would be cool to at least get the foundations for that going for the years to come.”
Rosso said he hopes the program will help Cal Poly Athletics become a bigger name.
“Reputations for a lot of colleges are based in their sports programs,” Rosso said. “I have no idea what the biggest major is at Ohio State, but I know they were number one and they just got beat by Alabama. Boise State would not be on the map if they didn’t win the Fiesta Bowl a few years back and one of their football players proposed to a cheerleader. We want to make Cal Poly a household name in that type of way.”
Cal Poly men’s basketball head coach Joe Callero said he thinks the Maniacs already play a significant role in the success of Cal Poly sports.
“The Maniacs add enthusiasm to our team as well as the rest of the crowd,” Callero said. “They set the tone at home games and Cal Poly has a reputation of great crowds.”
For now, the Maniacs are focusing on finding an organizational flow as well as channeling student spirit — in the right way. Media chair for the Maniacs and biological sciences senior Alison Davis said the Mustangs are working on balancing the athletic department’s restraints and the overall attitude of the fans.
“We’re keeping it within a more positive thing rather than a negative,” Davis said. “They just want to keep it positive and make sure we’re representing Poly to the best we can.”
Rosso agrees with Davis and said the atmosphere for the fans and the representation of Cal Poly as a whole is the running central idea within the collaboration.
“Athletics is a huge part of the college experience and we want to make sure that we provide that experience in the right atmosphere in the best way we can,” Rosso said. “Cal Poly is a fantastic university — not just academically, but athletically. We have 20 D-I sports competing at the highest level and so we just kind of want to convey that to the students.”
However, there is one Division-I sport the Maniacs don’t have a grip on. The Maniacs can’t take their spirit as far as they’d like to with soccer because the Mustang Manglers — an unofficial soccer fan organization which is not recognized by Cal Poly Athletics — already has the upper hand, Rosso said.
“We’re very happy that there is another group here supporting Cal Poly Athletics and teams such as soccer,” Rosso said. “The Mustang Maniacs want to work with the Manglers to be more efficient, bigger, all those things, but there hasn’t been persistence on that part.”
The Maniacs don’t want to create any sort of rivalry between the two groups and will continue to support soccer regardless of who controls the student section, Rosso said.
“We don’t want to alienate the group that’s already there,” Rosso said. “We want to hold out a hand in terms of wanting to work together, rather than starting a competing group somewhere else.”
Although the Maniacs do endorse all Cal Poly sports, regrettably, they’re not able to attend every sporting event, Rosso said.
“For fall quarter, we really need to focus on the sports that are the big names and the big money for Cal Poly and that’s always football and soccer,” Rosso said. “So we have to devote all our time to those sports mainly. We just need more support.”
On their continuous search for more Maniacs, there is one day in the season that won’t lack one empty seat in the stadium — Nov. 13. That date marks the night, once again, when the home of the Golden Horseshoe Trophy will be decided between Cal Poly and UC Davis. The game — to the Maniac’s delight — is at home.
“I want that damn horseshoe back,” Davis said.
In fact, 2008’s Cal Poly-Davis rivalry game marked a special night for Davis, who walked away with a temporary souvenir and permanent memory — a mild concussion. Davis had taken the position as Musty the Mustang for two years and recalls the time someone wanted to give Musty a bigger hug than she anticipated.
“It was at a football game — I was over by the student section and this girl jumped from the student section — I had my arms out to give her a hug because a lot of people love to give Musty hugs — and she jumped and I couldn’t catch her, obviously,” Davis said. “So I was near the railings and I hit my head. Inside Musty’s head there was a helmet so it was pretty mild.”
Both Davis and Rosso are counting the days until the Aggies walk onto Alex G. Spanos Stadium, mainly to get that trophy back. Rosso is convinced Poly will take the victory.
“If we don’t … We will,” Rosso said. “We’ll get it back.”
Whether the team wins or suffers a defeat, there is one thing for sure: the future seasons for Cal Poly Athletics are going to see a gradual increase of support. At least, that’s the plan.
“It’s definitely going to be bigger,” Rosso said. “The beautiful thing about it is this is the start of it.”