From pigskins to poms: How an Edina man started the first Vikings cheer team

mickie-orourke-bob-patrinBy Katie Mintz
Sun Newspapers
March 25, 2010

Pompoms, not pigskins, held Bob Patrin’s eye at a college football game in 1955.

From his seat in the University of California, Berkeley stands, the young man spotted the school’s pompom girls dancing across the field.

“I saw these girls in unison doing these routines and I was so impressed,” said Patrin, then a St. Paul native on leave from his U.S. Army station in Hawaii. “I’d never seen anything like it.”

Just five years later, he became the National Football League’s first male choreographer. Now the Edina 80-year-old is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first Minnesota Vikings cheer team.

The Minnesota House Committee on Rules and Legislative Administration passed a resolution last month recognizing Patrin and his Vi-Queens as the original Vikings cheerleading organization.

Patrin said his foray into the world of poms – more dance than cheerleading -came fast, but wasn’t always easy.

After the University of California, Berkeley game he told the girls how impressed he was by their performance. They offered to help him start a group at his alma mater. Patrin earned bachelor’s degrees in history and geography at the University of Minnesota before being drafted in 1954.

He held them to their word when he was discharged from the Army in 1956. Having enrolled in graduate school back at the University of Minnesota, he asked the athletic director for permission to start a pompom group. He was met with resistance.

“Nobody knew what they were,” said Patrin, who’s lived in Edina for more than 30 years.

Adding to the unease was a performance by the Roosevelt High School Rockettes at a University basketball game earlier in the year. Officials didn’t like their short skirts and bare arms. Patrin was told his group better wear long skirts and sweaters.

He went back to California equipped with an 8-millimeter camera to film and learn the routines.

“They made me learn everything as though I was trying out,” said Patrin. “I even had to learn how to make the poms.”

Back in Minnesota, he began to recruit. His first University of Minnesota Pomperette was freshman Kay Clark, a 1956 graduate of St. Louis Park High School. She got several of her friends from high school to join, including Mickie O’Rourke Phillips. Others were from Edina and Minneapolis.

Phillips, now a 40-year resident of Edina, remembers the initially rough road. The group didn’t receive funding at first, meaning they once had to borrow uniforms from the St. Louis Park High School Parkettes dance team for a performance. Then the University’s marching band director prohibited them from participating on the field for Homecoming 1956.

“I guess we got resistance from all over the place,” said Phillips.

When the team finally got to dance at a Gopher basketball game in 1957, the crowd was less than enthusiastic. While students liked the already established cheerleaders, the Pomperettes’ choreographed moves to music were something new. Next fall on the football field, they were often targets of snowballs.

“The crowd was so apprehensive,” said Phillips. “We really had to work to win them over.”

Eventually they did. In 1958, 100 girls tried out for the team. The Pomperettes’ half-time performances at basketball games were frequently televised. In 1960, the girls cheered on the Gophers at the Rose Bowl.

“I brought color to the stadium,” said Patrin of the Pomperettes’ maroon uniforms, which stood out from the white uniforms of Minnesota cheerleaders.

With the Pomperettes established, Patrin’s attention shifted to a new opportunity. Former University of Minnesota football star Billy Bye was selected business manager for the upstart Minnesota Vikings professional football team. He asked Patrin to form a pompom team for the Vikings, who were to start play in fall 1960 with the new American Football League.

Patrin got the Vi-Queens ready to go only to have the Vikings’ owners switch to the National Football League. The move delayed play until 1961.

Still, Patrin said the Vi-Queens were just the second group in the NFL to root on their teams from the field. The Baltimore Colts had cheerleaders as part of their marching band beginning in 1954. He was the first male choreographer.

“And we were the first group organized to run the sidelines,” said Patrin.

The Vi-Queens were comprised of about a dozen girls from all around the state. Rep. Mindy Greiling of Roseville wrote the recent resolution honoring the 50th anniversary of the Vi-Queens because three original members were from Roseville. Several of the members were former University of Minnesota Pomperettes, but the as Vi-Queens they still had some learning to do.

“In 1961 we were playing the Rams,” Patrin recalled. “It was raining and the girls went out for one last routine.”

Their poms made from purple crepe paper stained their white uniforms as they cheered. Patrin had a local cleaner dye them purple before the next game.

Phillips said the crowd, however, appreciated their enthusiasm through the inclement weather.

“I think they appreciated us much more at the Vikings games,” she said. The group also made frequent appearances around town, from parades to mall openings.

The Vi-Queens performed almost two more full seasons before being replaced by a larger group. Their last game would have been Sunday, Nov. 24, 1963, but President John F. Kennedy was assassinated the Friday before. The NFL said no cheerleaders were to appear in uniform that Sunday.

“The last game we did, we didn’t actually do,” said Patrin. “There wouldn’t be any celebrating.”

As Patrin got ready for the 1964 season, he was asked to expand the Vi-Queens to at least 30 girls. He received more than 60 applications for the team but had to turn down the offer because he didn’t have the space to rehearse.

Patrin said he’s proud of his endeavors, though they did not last long. The St. Louis Park High School Parkettes were selected to replace the Vi-Queens on the Vikings sideline. They cheered for the Vikings until 1984, when the team hired professionals. The University of Minnesota Pomperettes were combined with the University cheerleading team in 1964 shortly after Patrin left to lead the Vi-Queens.

“For Bob to even get the University and the Vikings to consider this to me is just unbelievable,” said Phillips. “It’s always fun to start something new and different.”

Vi-Queens memorabilia is currently on display at the Edina Senior Center, 5280 Grandview Square, Edina.

Comments are closed.