College traditions: Gator Growl
Gator Growl is a student-run pep rally at the University of Florida that was founded in 1932. It marks the culminating moment of Homecoming Week at the university.
Designated the largest student-run pep rally in the world, the show is held annually in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium (also known as “The Swamp”) at the University of Florida.
Gator Growl is credited with inspiring Orange Peel, a similar event held annually at Oklahoma State University after a group of students, faculty and alumni traveled to Gainesville in 1995 to witness the event.
Gator Growl has been a University of Florida tradition over 80 years. Gator Growl has its roots in the tradition of “Dad’s Day,” a turn-of-the-century tradition in which fathers of the then all-male student body were invited to visit the new campus. In 1916, a pep rally replaced Dad’s Day and “Gator Growl” was born. At the original pep rally, freshmen contributed their weight in wood to a giant bonfire, known as “firing up” enthusiasm for the next day’s football game. In 1923, the tradition grew as skits, musical performances and guest speakers expanded the rally into a variety show. Students & alumni continued to express their Gator spirit by participating in cheers and enjoying performances by UF’s Marching Band, Cheerleaders and Dazzlers.
Over time, the Gator Growl production grew with the advancement of technology to its current scale. Today, it is a showcase of athletic talent and spirited tradition; a spectacle of fireworks, light displays, live music, and comedy. More than 500 student volunteers work for thousands of hours to coordinate the night of festivities for the University of Florida community. Producers, assistant directors, and staff members are in charge of the production, execution, promotion and dismantling of the show. These student volunteers earn Gator Growl its beloved nickname, “the world’s largest student-run pep rally!”
The majority of the manual labor associated with this major production, however, is provided by University of Florida students who work at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center, the University of Florida’s indoor sports arena. The event takes more than a week to physically set up and requires more than 200 student employees to do so. Because Gator Growl is always held the night before a home football game, these students must work all night to remove every trace of the event by the following morning. Like all aspects of Gator Growl, the physical construction is also student-run with primary responsibility falling on the Production Lead—the student technician charged with coordinating and supervising all of the other student employees. The Production Lead and the Head Electrician (also a student) will typically serve as an apprentice to the position the year prior.
In its long history, Gator Growl has been recognized by Good Morning America, Comedy Central, Entertainment Tonight and many other popular culture outlets.
The main purpose of the pep rally is to motivate the Florida Gators to victory in their Homecoming football game. The show features performances from the UF Dazzlers, the University of Florida cheerleaders, and The Pride of the Sunshine marching band.
In addition to the cheers, there are performances from guest comedians, musicians, and entertainers who perform for the assembled students and alumni.
A special portion of the show is reserved for celebrity cameo appearances. In the past, cameo appearances have included former Presidents George H. Bush and Bill Clinton, as well as entertainment icons such as David Letterman, Katie Couric, and “Nature Boy” Ric Flair.