A Chat With Norman Sper, Jr., Father of Aye Zigga Zoomba
It's difficult to score a touchdown when you don't have the football but metaphorically speaking that is just what I did this past Friday afternoon. After nearly a year of trying to locate Norman Sper, Jr. the person who introduced UNC to Aye Zigga Zoomba when he was Head Cheerleader at Carolina, I finally located him and had a very pleasant telephone conversation with him from his home near Los Angeles, Cal, Norman is originally from Los Angeles so he's back on familiar turf after having graduated from UNC in 1950. Most of his career has been in radio and television and I guess, in a way, it was in his genes since his father was a script writer in Hollywood and his mother was a silent film actress. I think I surprised Norman when I quoted details of their careers but I spent a considerable amount of time on the internet familiarizing myself with their exploits before making the call. His parents' marriage was even listed in one compilation of marriages where both parties were considered to be notables.
Norman is now 77 years old and like this writer does not recall events of 50 years ago like he might if the time span were shorter. He still recalls his days in Chapel Hill with fondness though and on two occasions mentioned that he would like to visit Chapel Hill again. His last visit was in1990 when he attended his class reunion along with his wife Joyce who is also a graduate of UNC.
I explained to him what we were trying to do with Aye Zigga Zoomba and he said he thought it was great. He and I even sang AZZ through one time and I could tell that I had triggered fond memories for someone who has occupied a prominent role in the greatest era of UNC football ever. I can see him now in front of the student section yelling "Gimmee a C." The pines in Kenan would shudder when the students yelled back "C" and the chant continued until Carolina was spelled out and it was concluded with "What 'cha got", "I Can't Hear You" and "One More Time."
I thought the Head Cheerleader at Carolina was elected by the student body when Norman was at UNC because I know it was when I was there in the late 50s but Norman says he was not elected by the student body. He just went out for cheerleader and was selected as the Head Cheerleader. His enthusiasm and flair for the theatrical must have earmarked him for the leadership position. Norman was an All-American swimmer but says that he was not on a swimming scholarship. I'm not even sure there was any such thing as a swimming scholarship when he enrolled at Carolina. He says his father was responsible for him being at Carolina but didn't give any details on the subject.
Now I'm sure some of you want to know if I asked him the question that has generated so many good natured arguments among Carolina fans and the answer is yes, I did. So once and for all we are going to settle the "mow", "roll" controversy. It's not as clear cut as some might like it but I think it's the closest we are going to come to resolving the issue. After giving the matter some thought, I'm not sure it's desirable to have the issue resolved "once and for all." Gives us something to talk about.
Norman and his wife both "think" the word that was used originally was "mow" but I would be misleading you if I said that they were positive this was the case. As I said earlier, it's been over 50 years and for you youngsters (anyone below the age of 70 ), you are going to get your shot at remembering things later and I think you will have a new appreciation for the memory and how it works when that day arrives. In the final analysis it doesn't matter which is correct. We all know what we sang and that will be "correct" in our minds forever. I conceded long ago to go with "roll" to avoid confusion and dissension in the Tar Heel ranks but I still sing "mow" and nobody knows the difference. Funny what conditioning will do.
Norman thinks he got the idea of the song at Carolina from hearing it at UCLA games which he attended as a youth. So now we have two other institutions who have a claim to the song but I've got news for them. We ain't giving it up so Bowling Green and UCLA can forget it. It's a part of our heritage and will always be. There is no way we can erase history. None other than our national anthem "The Star Spangled Banner" has a similar past in that the tune for that song was taken from a barroom favorite of the time.
So there you have it. I know my singing of Aye Zigga Zoomba with Norman will rank near the top of my all time Tar Heel thrills and I know, if only for a moment, Norman was the "Man" again leading the student section in Kenan. Not a bad chapter in the continuing saga of Aye Zigga Zoomba and, by no means, the end to the story.