MARK MONTIETH: Basketball wasn’t the only takeaway from the 1980 Final Four

Keywords College Sports

Ask fans who attended the NCAA Final Four at Market Square Arena in 1980 and they’ll tell you. Just ask them if they remember the appearance of the UCLA Song Girls at the games and you’ll get reactions like …

“Oh, it was huge!” said Alan Karpick, a Purdue student manager at the time who is now publisher of the GoldandBlack.com website. “It made a huge impression on a lot of us. They could stop a watch.”

And like …

“I remember them girls!” said Poncho Wright, a sophomore forward for Louisville’s team. “Who don’t remember them girls?”

Forty years later, people remember. UCLA’s Song Girls created such a sensation at Indianapolis’ first Final Four that fans literally stopped in their tracks to watch at halftime of the two games in which the Bruins played. Human traffic jams occurred in the exit ramps, where some fans were walking toward the concession stands while others—men—were rushing back to the court to see what all the fuss was about.

The over-the-top reaction seems silly now, but you had to be there to understand. In an era when most college cheerleaders were still wearing bulky sweaters and pleated skirts, or at least nothing more risqué than a skirt, blouse and vest, UCLA’s eight-girl dance team broke the mold.

Performing at halftime, they wore blue silk short-shorts and gold sleeveless V-neck halter tops that dared show a hint of midriff. In 1980, that seemed as revolutionary for college cheerleaders as when The Beatles first showed up on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in their long hair, collarless suit coats and Cuban-heeled boots. They danced to the day’s modern music rather than the standard college pep band fare, and the crowd went wild—at least the male portion of it.

“Today, it wouldn’t be nothing,” Wright said. “But that was kind of scandalous back then.”

That’s why an Associated Press story on the group was sent across the wires between Saturday’s semifinal games and Monday’s championship game. It ran in newspapers throughout the country, including UCLA’s hometown Los Angeles Times, and was accompanied by a photo of the squad member who attracted the most attention, sophomore Julie Hayek. The caption in the San Francisco Examiner described her as “one of the UCLA cheerleaders who almost upstaged the basketball players.”

Indianapolis media took notice as well. Bob Collins, The Indianapolis Star’s longtime sports editor, led off his Tuesday morning column on the championship game with three paragraphs about the Song Girls. “I rate them like this:” he wrote. “three 9s, three 10s and a 13—at least a 13.” Then he got around to discussing the game.

The NCAA’s highlight video, which can be found on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m7ZT6t3FDr8), featured them as well. They appear within the first 10 seconds and reappear at 12:06, when the camera focuses primarily on Hayek.

Perhaps the best indicator of their celebrity following their Final Four breakthrough is that a photo of the group somehow found its way into the following season’s Purdue basketball media guide.

The greatest exposure, however, came from a 3,800-word Sports Illustrated article titled “Eight Beauties and a Beat” that ran during the following basketball season. Elements of it would be beyond cringe-worthy today; in fact, the story likely would never run in a traditional publication.

For example, when describing Hayek, a statuesque 6-footer, the author asked, “Has anyone since Lana Turner looked better in a sweater than Julie Hayek? No.”

The article also referenced the standing ovations the squad received at halftime of each of the Final Four games at MSA:

Amazed, aroused, you name it. Indianapolis had never seen anything quite so unusual, and no one wanted to miss even an instant of it. “It’s like really embarrassing to go out there and dance and see people looking down at you with binoculars,” says Hayek. “I mean, I’m sure! You do not need binoculars to watch a basketball game.”

Hayek went on to win the Miss USA competition in 1983. She began appearing on television after that, leading a team of other pageant winners on an episode of “Family Feud” and later served as co-host of a game show called “Break the Bank,” which ran in the 1985-1986 television season. She had small parts in several television shows and movies, and had a guest shot on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.”

According to her Wikipedia and Twitter entries, she has worked as a model, corporate spokesperson, stock trader and real estate agent, and is an animal rights advocate and fitness and beauty expert.

She did not respond to attempts to contact her through her website (www.juliehayek.com) or her Twitter feed (@realJulieHayek), both of which appear to be dormant.

Too bad. One can only guess what she thinks of all the 40-year-old commotion today. But like it or not, the Song Girls place in Final Four history is secure.•

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