Smells like Miner spirit

Kimberly Valle, Staff Reporter

UTEP’s dance team and the cheer squad, along with mascot Paydirt Pete, have elevated the university’s school spirit and has entertained a crowd of nearly 50,000 people per year at home games. They have rapidly increased their popularity across the nation by winning national championships and traveling all across the country.

The university’s dance team, the Golddiggers, was founded in 1927. They took their first trip out of town to Albuquerque with the marching band for a football game in 1938. In 1943, the Golddiggers began to attend all of UTEP’s football games. They performed with UTEP’s marching band to welcome boys from other colleges that were stationed at Fort Bliss at the time.

Melanie Thomas, a UTEP alumna who danced with the Golddiggers from 1975 through 1978, is now a manager for technology support at UTEP.

“I was just always excited every time I went out there,” Thomas said. “The fact that it is Miner fans, you know your family and friends are watching you, so that makes it even more special.”

Despite the low attendance at home football games, Thomas recalls memorable moments dancing
for the Golddiggers.

“We were invited to perform at the halftime show at the San Diego Chargers game,” Thomas said. “They actually had us sitting on the field, we were right there, probably a better view than many people in the stands, it was such an honor to be chosen.”

Over the years, being part of the dance team has become more of a challenge. Sandra Heredia, UTEP alumna, was part of the team from 2009 through 2012 and was the team’s captain.

“It took a lot of my time and at times was a little stressful, but at the end of the day, I enjoyed my time as a captain and it was an experience that I would always be thankful for,” Heredia said.

Heredia said in dancing for the Golddiggers, every year was very unique in its own way.

“I can just say that my years as a UTEP Golddigger were filled with amazing moments, and that’s exactly what I took with me—great friends and wonderful memories shared with beautiful dancers with the same passion for dance. In a heartbeat I would do it all over again,” Heredia said.

Although the Golddiggers get most of the attention at sporting events, the UTEP cheerleading squad is just as active in getting the crowd involved at home games and other school functions.

The cheer squad has brought national titles to El Paso. They have won more than six national awards since 2002 and have competed in competitions throughout the country. In 2002, they appeared in the documentary, “American Cheer,” where they also won first place in the Hollywood in Hawaii competition.

David Vasquez, UTEP alumnus, who was a member of the squad from 1991 through 1994, is now coach of the UTEP cheerleading squad.

“As performers, you get a rush performing in front of thousands of people, and as a coach you’re always a little nervous they don’t get hurt,” Vasquez said. “But it’s so nice, the reactions of the crowds when the cheerleaders get thrown up 10 feet in the air.”

UTEP is one of the few universities that do not offer a scholarship for cheerleading. Vasquez said that more than 90 percent of the cheer squad are from El Paso.

Adrian Martinez, UTEP alumni who cheered in 1999 and was captain, was an assistant coach under
Vasquez in 2008.

“We sacrifice our bodies every day to do certain stuff and tricks to entertain the public,” Martinez said. “I felt a real big part of UTEP. No matter where I go, UTEP will always be a part of me.

UTEP’s mascot Paydirt Pete has also gained popularity. The mascot has gone through many changes during the years, both with its name and appearance.

The first mascot was a burro named Dynamite, followed by Jenny and later a burro named Clyde. Later in 1974, the name Paydirt Pete was selected in a contest by winning more than
500 votes.

The first costumed Paydirt Pete mascot was nicknamed Sweet Pete, but was later replaced by the rougher looking Paydirt Pete. Another version of the mascot was presented in the fall of 1999, when the athletic department introduced a new logo. The current Paydirt Pete made his debut at a men’s basketball game during the 2004 season.

UTEP alumna, Monica Castillo, was the Paydirt Pete mascot during the transition in 2004.

Although it was challenging for Castillo to be a female Paydirt Pete, she said she enjoyed her four years of performing at the university.

“The whole time I was Paydirt Pete it was an experience. I would put my arms out like I was an airplane, that was my signature move,” Castillo said. “I loved doing it, I would want to be Pete one more time.”

Kimberly Valle may be reached at [email protected]