BRYAN, Tex. (KBTX) - For generations, the Texas A&M Yell Leaders have embodied the Aggie traditions and spirit. These five young men actively represent the 12th Man and lead Aggie fans through yells at university and athletic events.
20 years ago, the yell leaders were faced with a unique tragedy. At 2:42 a.m. on November 18, 1999, the Bonfire stack collapsed killing 12 Aggies and injuring 27.
When stack fell, Head Yell Leader Jeff Bailey and Senior Yell Leader John Bloss were back in their dorms on campus.
"I got the knock on the door and immediately turned on the TV to see the station where I could see the 24-hour stack going on, and when I saw pitch black and the lights, it was surreal,” said Jeff Bailey.
Both Bailey and Bloss worked on the 1999 stack.
"My initial reaction was that 'No big deal, it’s happened before. We will just build it back,'” said John Bloss. “I didn't have any clue to the extent. We didn't know we had buddies trapped under the fire.”
Campus was now in mourning. Bailey and Bloss say the days following the collapse were a blur and everyone was in shock.
“You know, we were just scared,” said Bloss. “We didn't know. As 20-21 year old kids, I had never had anything like that happen to me before in terms of that big of a disaster, that big of a tragedy. It was just numbness.”
During the aftermath of the collapse, several questions arose among student leaders. Do they cancel the football game versus the University of Texas? Should everyone just stay home for Thanksgiving? There were few answers, and the future was unknown.
Ultimately, after student leaders met with campus officials, they agreed the Aggie community is stronger together. The decision was made to move forward with midnight yell, and the game against the University of Texas.
Seven days after collapse, Texas A&M's midnight yell was a moment defined by hope and strength.
“We had no idea if we were going to have, you know, 5,000 people, 100,000 people,” said Bloss. “We weren't sure what to expect, but that night, the most vivid part of that night for me is entering into Kyle Field and the place was full, but it was deathly silent.”
In that moment, the Aggie family turned to five young men for guidance.
Instead of telling traditional fables, Head Yell Leader Jeff Bailey addressed the crowd.
"When I think of Aggie Bonfire, I know what makes it so special. It's every single Aggie that stands around it, and there are a lot of Aggies standing here tonight,” said Bailey to the gathered crowd. “I think the one modification about this yell practice is that it is a yell practice of hope and a yell practice of strength. It's not about tradition. It's not about anything else. It's about standing with your fellow man, your buddies, and yellin' for Texas A&M and your team.”
Bailey went on to talk about the parallels between life and the game. According to Bloss, Bailey’s speech put everyone’s feelings into words. He also gave insight on how A&M could start to heal and begin to move forward.
Unique to the yell practice was the 12 cannon volleys to honor the fallen. According to Bloss, the section chief said he purposefully counted to twelve between each cannon shot.
“That was just the space that, I think, that I needed in that moment to just feel God's presence,” said Bloss.
20 years later, Bloss still carries the memories of that fateful week- invisible scars on his heart.
“Usually when a scar heals, it becomes a more tougher part of the body through these scars, through these tragedies, I believe that God can take that and turn it into something beautiful right?” he said. “And I believe that our community, as Aggies, across Texas even, that we've become stronger because of it... The resilience of the Aggie Spirit. The strength that comes through tough times. Through scars."