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Saturday, December 27, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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WSU Football

WSU song punchy, but lacks claws

Seattle Times staff reporter

Washington State was underrated this year when it was picked to finish seventh in the Pac-10. What might be underrated every year is the school's fight song.

"Fight, Fight Fight for Washington State" was written in 1919 by music majors Phyllis Sayles (music) and Zella Melcher (lyrics) as a senior project.

It may seem surprising that the song doesn't include the word "Cougars," but it was written before the nickname was adopted, according to the university.

And you won't find "Fight, Fight Fight" on most CDs of best college fight songs. But fight-song expert Matt Nelson of Birmingham, Ala., says it's one of his favorites.

He believes that if the Cougars had gone to more bowl games in decades past, the song would be better known.

"A lot of schools have very good fight songs that people don't know much about," he said.

Nelson, once featured in a Sports Illustrated column by Rick Reilly, knows every one of the 117 Division I fight songs and can sing them or play them on the trombone.

Even those exotic lyrics in the University of Washington fight song "Bow Down to Washington" — "It's harder to push them over the line, than pass the Dardanelles" — don't stump him.

(The Dardanelles is a strait between the Sea of Marmara and the Aegean Sea and was the location of an unsuccessful allied effort to take Constantinople in 1915, when the song was written.)

Some of the greatest exposure for the Cougars fight song came in the 1985 film "Volunteers" in which the late John Candy played "Tom Tuttle from Tacoma" and taught natives the song while in the Peace Corps.

In 1983, the crew of the spacecraft Challenger II was awakened by the Cougars fight song in recognition of mission specialist John Fabian, a Pullman native and 1962 WSU graduate.

Nelson, a 29-year-old chemical engineer who graduated from Auburn University, once drove to Pullman just so he could hear "Fight, Fight Fight" at a game.

"I was on vacation in Glacier National Park (Montana) and I drove to Pullman because I wanted to hear the fight song," he said. He caught it live at the 1999 season opener when the Cougars lost to Utah.

Nelson said the Pac-10, Southeastern Conference and Big 12 have the best fight songs.

The Cougars fight song has been adopted by dozens of high schools in the state — but they insert their school name in place of "Washington State."

The Cougars song doesn't have clever lyrics, but it is up-tempo and distinctive. The lyrics:

"Fight, fight, fight for Washington State

Win the victory

Win the day for crimson and gray

Best in the West

We know you'll all do your best

So on, on, on!

Fight to the end

Honor and glory you must win!

So fight, fight, fight for Washington State and victory!"

The song usually is sung twice, with clapping the second time and a spell-out of "W-a-s-h-i-n-g-t-o-n S-t-a-t-e C-o-u-g-s."

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company

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