Bid for female A&M yell leader ends

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Samantha Ketcham's quest to become Texas A&M's first female yell leader ended abruptly Wednesday when the university's election commission said no runoff would be needed after it discovered a vote-tabulation error.

Ketcham was hoping to be elected to the five-member group, which A&M has instead of cheerleaders and always has been made up of men at the formerly all-male military institution. Yell leaders are among the most visible students on campus.

The commission released results Tuesday night that showed Nelson Ingram had been elected senior yell leader, with Ketcham and three other students facing a runoff for the two remaining positions. A day later, the commission said "the percentages were tabulated incorrectly" and that Drew Nelson and Hunter Skoog had won the other two spots.

"I'm disappointed that there won't be a runoff, but happy for the people who won," Ketcham said soon after learning the news.

Although all of the yell leaders are male, a majority of them also are members of Texas A&M's military organization that includes about 2,100 students in The Corps of Cadets. About 200 students in that group are women.

Ketcham, who was one of two women running for the position this year, received 22 percent of the 14,580 votes cast. Though she finished fifth out of six candidates, she thought her showing was encouraging because she isn't a member of either group that normally wins the positions.

"I knew it was a very long shot in the first place as a non-(Corps member) and a female," she said.

Texas A&M was founded in the 1870s, and women were allowed only after a court fight in the 1960s. Much has changed at the campus of more than 45,000, and 46.6 percent of its current enrollment is female.

Despite the change in the makeup of the student body, some aren't quite ready to see some of the university's long-held traditions end. An all-female dance team has been a recognized student organization since the mid-1990s and performs at men's and women's basketball games, but isn't allowed to set foot on Kyle Field, where the football team plays.

An editorial in The Battalion, Texas A&M's student newspaper, had urged voters to "preserve all-male yell leader tradition." Tim Bardin, a senior finance major who wrote the piece, said he believes the dance team should be kept away from football games and that yell leaders should always be men.

"If we allow the dance team on Kyle Field, or a woman to hold the position of yell leader just to get with the times and modernize, how are we different than any other school in the nation," he wrote. "If we allow one, what is to stop the other from happening?"

Ketcham isn't worried about people who believe a woman should never be a yell leader.

"The outpouring of support has been huge and overwhelming," she said. "I've received hundreds of notifications on Facebook since the election."