By CHUCK OFFENBURGER
JEFFERSON, Iowa, July 14, 2023 — There are lots of big, important issues unfolding in Iowa, across the nation and around the world right now. This column isn’t about any of them.
The little news here is that Monday this past week, the two chapters of the P.E.O. Sisterhood that co-exist here in Jefferson decided to meet together. They invited the “Doctors of Fight Songs” to come warm-up our campaign for a rousing anthem for Cottey College, the small liberal arts school for women that PEO owns and supports in Nevada, Missouri.
We “Doctors of Fight Songs” are shown here leading PEO members in Jefferson, Iowa, in the “Comet Song” anthem we’ve written for Cottey College, the liberal arts school for women in Missouri that PEO owns. Left to right, PEO Sister Jacque Andrew shakes a yellow pompom and videos the fun, Brad Mariska accompanies on the piano, and columnist Chuck Offenburger leads the singing. (Photo by Mary Riche)
Bradley Mariska, a former college student of mine who teams with me on creating fight songs for schools that need them, absolutely rocked the baby grand piano at the Greene County Historical Museum with his original composition of “Comets Song: Cottey College Fight Song.”
As the lyricist, I passed out the song sheets and led about 30 PEO Sisters shaking yellow pompoms and singing:
Cottey Comets, we are oh so bright!
Streaking ‘cross the skies in yellow and white.
We’ll be successful
Wherever we go,
Because right behind us is the P-E-O-oh!
Cottey Comets! We are cute and tough,
But even better we are wise.
We’ll win today and
We’ll win tomorrow,
And we can win without guys!
(Spell “C-O-M-E-T-S” in a chant, then repeat both verses)
Here, try it yourself by clicking on this YouTube posting of it.
If you’re a piano player, and want to play and sing along with the sheet music, click here and you can print it.
Mary Riche, wife of columnist Chuck Offenburger, is shown visiting the Cottey College campus in Nevada, Missouri, back in February of this year. Mary subsequently joined the PEO Sisterhood, which owns the college. (Photo by Chuck Offenburger)
This may sound familiar to longtime readers of mine.
Nine years ago, in January of 2014, I was asked by the late Sue Burt, my mother-in-law then, to be the guest speaker at a large PEO banquet in Des Moines raising money for college scholarships. Presumably some of those would be taken by new students to Cottey College. I said my fee would be a fresh homemade pie and she promised to deliver.
The night before the event, I started scratching out a speech. I couldn’t get Cottey College off my mind.
So I jumped on the school’s website and learned it was founded in 1884 in Nevada, a town an hour south of Kansas City. PEO took over ownership in 1927.
We all know about PEO, right? We just don’t know what the letters stand for. The Sisters won’t tell.
But it is certain that this philanthropic women’s organization, which has long sought to create more educational opportunities for women, was founded in 1869 on the campus of now-defunct Iowa Wesleyan College in Mount Pleasant in southeast Iowa. It’s now international, with headquarters in Des Moines.
Meanwhile, Cottey College, the website told me, has grown to more than 300 students from around the world. The academics are rigorous and well-respected.
The school also has a nice program of intercollegiate athletics, offering competition in six sports back in 2014, nine now.
Teams nickname: Comets.
School colors: Yellow and white.
Fight song: OMG, there was none!
The composer and pianist of the “Doctors of Fight Songs.” (Photo by Mary Riche)
I immediately phoned Brad Mariska, who was then director of bands at Austin Senior High School in southern Minnesota, and is now associate director of bands at Farmington High School just south of the Twin Cities. I first met him between at Buena Vista University, where he graduated in music education in 2001 and was one of BVU’s brightest and most enthusiastic students.
I never actually had him in my journalism classes, but we were both involved in a successful campaign to resurrect the long-forgotten BVU Fight Song while we were there. He went on to earn a master’s degree in musicology at the University of Maryland, came back to Minnesota and has been teaching, performing and composing ever since.
In my frantic 2014 phone call, I told Mariska there’s another school, Cottey College, in need of our fight song help. He answered the call of duty.
Acting quickly back then, I wrote the lyrics and premiered the song to the PEO scholarship banquet. Since Mariska needed more time on the score, I borrowed the tune of the BVU Fight Song and added my Cottey College lyrics. It seemed to be a hit. A couple hundred PEO Sisters laughed, then cheered, then gave it a standing ovation!
I wrote about it, and within days the “PEO Record,” their international publication with 240,000 subscribers, called for an interview and did a story. I heard favorably from PEO Sisters from all over everywhere.
Cottey College officials asked for the score and recordings. We sent them. Initially those officials indicated enthusiasm for the “Comet Song,” but subsequently asked if they could tidy-up some of the lyrics.
The lyricist, a fancy word for columnist. (Photo by Mary Riche)
We “Doctors of Fight Songs” are accustomed to nervous nellies.
Mariska and I had earlier collaborated on a fight song for Briar Cliff University in Sioux City when we were told they had no such song. BCU President Bev Wharton back then insisted they couldn’t have one because the Catholic school was founded by Franciscan nuns, who oppose fighting. So Mariska and I offered a “spirit song,” one that we contend incorporates Franciscan values. Key lines:
We value our opponents,
We’re so glad that you’re here,
So please don’t think us nasty
If we try to kick your rear!
Our mothers were all sisters,
Who built upon this crest,
And they always wanted Briar Cliff
To do its very best!
You can find that one on YouTube, too. It’s been heard ’round the world, just not at Briar Cliff.
Meanwhile, Mariska, at 43, has done enough study of fight songs, thinking about them and composing them, that he’s genuinely one of the leading authorities on this fun genre of music.
Mariska, who says the University of Michigan fight song “The Victors” is probably America’s best, is shown here performing it for the PEO Sisters in Jefferson. (Photo by Mary Riche)
“A good fight song should be upbeat, easy to sing, especially for ‘non-singers’,” he says. “You want to be able to get people who say they ‘can’t sing’ to want to sing along because the tune is so catchy and memorable. So you use a limited range that is comfortable to all voice parts, use repetition, and also don’t be afraid to imitate successful songs of the same genre.
“It’s a fun challenge because anybody can write a song for a professional to perform, but writing something that is catchy for non-musicians is another thing altogether. You also want to avoid gimmicks or musical techniques or styles that are ‘popular’ right now. You want the song to still feel timeless 20 years from now.”
It’s got to be playable and singable both indoors and out – in locker rooms, arenas, stadiums.
Yes, he says when I’ve asked, a good fight song should also have some history and some sass.
Here we go again! (Photo by Mary Riche)
So a week ago, I was back in touch briefly with Cottey College officials before our presentation to the PEO chapters in Jefferson.
I had checked the website again, and learned that since 2014, there’s been almost a total turnover in college leadership and, of course, students, too. Regime change!
So I emailed Evan Belk, an assistant basketball coach and assistant sports information director, asking if Cottey had ever adopted a fight song – the “Comet Song” we wrote or any other?
“Thank you for reaching out,” Belk responded. “We have not heard of this before but would like to hear more about the fight song.”
I’m sure they will!
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