Ask Abe: Varsity

Mike F. ’89

When did “Varsity” become “time-honored”?

Abe

“Varsity” has been around a long time. UW professor Henry Dyke Sleeper wrote the lyrics (titled “Varsity Toast”) in 1898, and the melody is even older, having been penned (for the hymn “Domine Salvum Fac”) by French composer Charles Gounod in 1855. UW band director Ray Dvorak added the arm wave in 1934, by which time the Badger yearbook was describing the song as “traditional.” But when did people start using the phrase time-honored ‘Varsity’ as though that were the song’s actual title? That’s harder to pin down. According to current band announcer John Biester ’78, the phrase time-honored ‘Varsity’ was used before he assumed that job in 1995. He thinks it was written by Mike Leckrone, who scripts what the announcer says. The phrase’s popularity appears to have been the doing of Jack Rane, Biester’s predecessor from 1971 to 1994. Rane was known colloquially as “the voice of the band,” and “Varsity” was important to him — he died in December 1994, and when the band played a memorial for him in September 1995, it featured the dirge-like tune.