TCU’s first Black cheerleader recalls breaking barriers 

dfwnewsa | February 21, 2024 | 0 | Fort Worth , Fort Worth News

TCU’s first Black cheerleader recalls breaking barriers 

Ronald Hurdle speaks at TCU on Feb. 7. (Courtesy photo | TCU Photography by James Anger)
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As Ronald Hurdle recalls it, he made a casual remark one day about joining the cheerleading team at Texas Christian University. 

That remark set Hurdle, now a semi-retired attorney from Dallas, on a journey that would see him becoming, in 1969, the first Black cheerleader not only at TCU but in the Southwest Conference. 

“It was that casual when I said it,” Hurdle, 75, recalled. 

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That year, he and several other Black students had been discussing ways in which they could be more involved in student activities. TCU had integrated the campus in 1964, but many Black students were still somewhat isolated, Hurdle said.

“(Being the first Black cheerleader) wasn’t anything that was consciously thought of, or perceived as what I was doing,” he said. “I knew I’d gone to the games and I’d seen the cheerleaders while out there, and I thought they were having a good time.”

Hurdle grew up in Dallas and attended a Disciples of Christ church. That led him to TCU, as the school is affiliated with that faith.

“I had a couple of friends that were going, so I knew I would have some friends here,”  he said.

Hurdle originally wanted to become a doctor, but those plans changed when his grades didn’t make the cut. A friend suggested he get involved in theater and Hurdle ended up earning his bachelor of fine arts in that major.  

“That really turned out to be a blessing, because with all the other things going on, the theater was a place where I could get away from it all,” he said. 

It also helped later in his career as an attorney. 

“A lot of attorneys have difficulty in front of crowds,” he said. “I didn’t.” 

When Hurdle announced his plans to run for cheerleader — students voted on the position then — a friend volunteered to be his campaign manager.

They went to different organizations on campus and in the food hall and made their case.

“It was a lot of fun, really. We’d sing sometimes, make up little songs,” he said. 

And, most importantly, he was elected in both his junior and senior years. 

Ronald Hurdle, left, with his fellow male cheerleaders in 1970. (Courtesy photo | Special Collections/Mary Couts Burnett Library, TCU)

He recalled celebrating that night of that first election and having a grand time.

“We really did get to know a lot of students and faculty members, so really, what we set out to do, it worked,” he said. 

He said he didn’t really meet with much resistance during his campaign, but he knew it was out there. When he returned to his dorm room at Tom Brown following his win, Hurdle said, the phone rang. His roommate rushed to pick it up, but Hurdle answered first.  What he heard was someone telling him what would happen now that he had been elected. It was, he said, a typical racist rant. 

“My roommate, he’d already gotten some of the phone calls, so he was trying to shield me from that, but I heard it,” he said.

Because he had casually decided to go out for the cheer squad, he hadn’t thought through the implications of what his election meant. His first challenge was to be accepted by the rest of the cheer squad, which was then four men and four women who worked in two-person teams. But the captain of the squad welcomed him and they began to work together. That was a great relief, he said.

The second challenge was being accepted by the other students. That took time as he began cheering for the school and proved he could be an effective member of the organization.

Being accepted by the administration was another issue.

Before a game at the University of Wisconsin in 1970, a TCU administrator called a meeting with the cheerleaders and said he didn’t want the squad to perform any cheers that involve physical contact, such as lifts. 

It was pretty obvious what the problem was, Hurdle said.

“They didn’t want a white girl and a Black guy interacting,” he said.

 The administrator admitted they had gotten complaints from alumni who didn’t think the school was ready for that.

“I was really surprised and really happy that the rest of the squad stood up and said they were not going to change what they had been practicing all year,” he said. “They said, ‘We’re going to do drills just like we’ve always done them.’”

Ronald Hurdle in a 2021 photo at TCU. (Courtesy photo | Vishal Malhotra, TCU) 

But there were still challenges. 

Hurdle recalls going to a basketball game at College Station where someone  made some threats.

“I told the cheer squad leader about it, and the team got wind of it,” he said. “As a result, the team walked me to my car because they were afraid there was going to be some physical confrontation.” 

Hurdle said that he values the time he spent at TCU and that he made many lifelong friends there.

It also prepared him as he moved on in his career, first in the Navy as a weapons officer and then as a discipline officer. After leaving the Navy in 1974, he joined a Southwestern Bell management training program and worked there until he took a buyout at age 43. It was then that Hurdle began a second career as an attorney.

“I was one of the oldest students then, so I broke some barriers there too,” he said.

He worked for many years at Allstate, then as an associate civil district judge in Dallas for a year. 

He has slowed down some but still works in his own practice, often in the field of mediation. 

Hurdle said his faith played a big part in persevering through his struggles.

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“I had some good times at TCU, but I had some difficult times,” he said. “It’s those difficult times that make us who we are. It makes us rich, deep, to find our faith, to find that inner strength to go on and conquer the next obstacle.” 

Hurdle discussed his time at TCU with current students as part of the school’s Race and Reconciliation Initiative, which has highlighted some of the prominent Black alumni from the school. At the event, Hurdle was presented with the Plume Award,  an annual recognition given by the initiative to individuals and organizations that have contributed to “fostering a campus community that is welcoming for all.”

The Race and Reconciliation Initiative previously sponsored a discussion by Jennifer Giddings Brooks, the first Black homecoming queen at TCU, who was elected in 1970. 

TCU President Daniel W. Pullin said Hurdle’s story sets a “standard of excellence” for the TCU community. 

“The way he communicated his story, so that we can stay connected to the generations that came before us, that has everything to do with our future success,” he said. 

Hurdle told the students the world has changed quite a bit since his run as cheerleader and not always for the better. He noted there has been some pushback on civil rights gains made when he was younger.

“I’m an optimistic person, in spite of circumstances and situations,” he told the students. “I think we’ve got to keep moving forward in spite of what stands in our way, in spite of our circumstances. Because, like I said, the truth is going to always be the truth. It’s our obligation, our responsibility to be committed to making sure that the truth always rises.”  

Bob Francis is business editor for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at bob.francis@fortworthreport.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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