Baylor football game days: from outside the gridiron

Baylor Spirit Squad cheers on the Bears against the University of Oklahoma on Nov. 13, 2021. Baylor University Photography Database photo.

By Lily Nussbaum | Arts and Life Intern

While Baylor football battles it out on the field week after week, certain people and programs behind the scenes carry on Baylor traditions and create the well-known atmosphere of excitement at McLane Stadium.

On game days, it’s easy to recognize the Baylor Spirit program. The program is composed of four entities — the Co-ed Yell Leaders, the All-Girl Yell Leaders, the Songleaders and the mascots, Bruiser and Marigold — all spearheaded by Kristen Hankins, their leader and the director of spirit and traditions.

“Our kids who are in our program, our athletes, just are wonderful people on top of being very talented,” Hankins said. “For a coach, that is more than you could ever ask for.”

Growing up as a coach’s kid, Hankins said game days are her favorite part of working with the Baylor Spirit program. After countless hours of early morning practices, Hankins said it is a fun time to perform and shine in front of the Baylor community.

Hankins said she works closely with the Golden Wave Band to collectively bring energy on game days. She also said she communicates back and forth with directors to figure out songs and routines.

“They come in before season just like we do,” Hankins said. “There’s just an understanding for the work that goes into it between our two groups, and so that bonds us together.”

Further up in McLane Stadium — surrounded by his note-filled spotting board and seated behind his signature broadcasting microphone — assistant athletic director for broadcasting John Morris can be found in the audio booth every home game.

Morris, known by Baylor fans as the “Voice of the Bears,” is entering his 35th year of broadcasting for Baylor athletics. With a new team every year, he said it is exciting to get to know new players and staff while maintaining relationships with those who return. Morris said he regularly attends the team’s practices to talk to players and learn about them as individuals.

“They’re not just a name and a number,” Morris said. “To get to know them personally and hopefully tell their stories and share their stories to the broadcast is really fun.”

As a Baylor alumnus, Morris said he was excited when asked by Frank Fallon to return and help with football broadcasts while still working for KWTX. Morris said he considers Fallon his mentor in broadcasting and life.

“In my mind, Frank will always be the Voice of the Baylor Bears,” Morris said. “He was just so good and so respected. Anytime we do something good, it’s a reflection of him because we learned from him.”

From Robert Griffin III’s last-second game-winning pass in 2011 against the University of Oklahoma to this past year’s Big 12 Championship win at the goal-line against Oklahoma State University, Morris has been at the call of some of the most notable moments in Baylor football history.

“If it’s a good, close game, the script writes itself,” Morris said. “If it’s a blowout, really one way or another, you have to help the script along by adding things to the broadcast to keep it interesting.”

While there are many Baylor traditions on game days, Morris said he has a tradition of his own. After completing his pregame show, Morris said he passes by the South Plaza. Located above the ‘B’ on the BU Logo rests a brick in memory of Fallon.

“Every time I walk in from Touchdown Alley, I find that brick and make a point and take a moment to just remember Frank,” Morris said. “That’s a real highlight of every home game.”

In addition to the spirit squads and the audio booth, there is the usually unseen marketing and fan engagement department of Baylor athletics.

Erin Bean, assistant athletic director for strategic marketing and fan engagement and a former athlete herself, said she understands the importance of telling the stories of student-athletes, communicating with a fanbase and creating an overall exemplary fan experience on game days. In her first year here, she was a part of events such as ESPN College Gameday and FOX’s Big Noon Kickoff.

“If fans just understand the impact that they play on the competition, it makes such a huge difference,” Bean said. “There are just so many opportunities to be a fan, whether you are a student or whether you are just John Doe walking down the street.”