Joey Harrington famously threw the 'O' to signal the band to play "Mighty Oregon," the university's fight song, which will celebrate its 100th birthday on March 10, 2016.


Celebrate Mighty Oregon Day March 10

Oregon, our Alma Mater, we will guard thee on and on…

University of Oregon fans young and old know it by heart; it is just as much a part of the UO as the colors green and gold.

The Oregon athletic bands—the 250-person Marching Band, the 80-member Basketball Band, the 12-musician Yellow and Green Garter Bands, and the Alumni Band—play it at sporting events, symphonies, marathons, UOAA member appreciation nights, and more—they’ve even been hired to play it at a barbeque—while a recording of it is broadcast from the Erb Memorial Union at noon and 6:00 p.m. every day.

Joey Harrington, BS '01 once famously requested it following a Civil War win, and in doing so turned an Oregon Marching Band hand sign from a band director cue into a UO tradition.

High school bands nationwide contact the University of Oregon each year asking to use it as their own fight song.

But just what is the story of “Mighty Oregon,” which turns 100 years old on March 10, 2016, a date officially designated as “Mighty Oregon Day” in the state?

Fellows gather ‘round and cheer her; chant her glory, Oregon.

In 1915, Swedish composer and clarinetist Albert Perfect moved to Eugene to lead the University of Oregon band, the Eugene High School band, and a Eugene municipal band.

Perfect was, to put it mildly, a bit of a character. Well known to local bar owners and police officers alike, he had a tendency to disappear for days at a time, only to reappear later a little worse for wear. It was during one such episode, where he spent time down on the Millrace, that he adapted the tune of popular World War I song “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” and created a (mostly) new song.

“He would often bring music paper with him,” said UO School of Music and Dance Assistant Dean for Admissions Robert Ponto, who has researched Perfect extensively. “He jumped up and said ‘I’ve got it,’ and he’d written the march for his group.”

Originally written for the Eugene municipal band, one of the first such bands in the nation, University of Oregon journalism sophomore DeWitt Gilbert, BA '20 wrote lyrics to Perfect’s song, and “The Mighty Oregon March (The Tipperary of the West)” was born.

On January 7, 1916, the Eugene municipal band gave the first performance of Perfect’s new song. On March 10 of that same year, in Villard Hall, the UO band performed it for the first time.

“Villard, in the old days, those upper floors weren’t there,” Ponto said. “There was a big ballroom, and they had concerts up there.”

The song was a hit, and just like that the UO had its signature tune.

Roar the praises of her warriors, sing the story, Oregon.

“Mighty Oregon” was a sensation, both at home and abroad. The 162nd Infantry Band in France performed it, as did a high school in the Philippines. A panel of judges on the East Coast named it one of the 10 best fight songs in the nation, ranking it alongside the likes of “Cheer, Cheer for Old Notre Dame.” Duck fans can listen to the song whenever they want on a commemorative CD that includes multiple recordings, including salsa and swing versions.

It is the second song new band members learn, right after the pledge song. The band plays it after every touchdown, meaning by the end of a football season, they are very familiar with it.

“The garter bands meet a week before the rest of the band, and they have their own week of rehearsals,” said Anna Waite, BM '10, administrative coordinator of athletic bands and a former clarinet player in the Oregon Marching Band. “Then the rest of the band comes and we start our band camp, which is 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. rehearsals, two weeks before classes start. The first big meeting we have we sing the pledge song together, in four-part harmony, and then “Mighty Oregon” and the national anthem are the first tunes we learn.

“We play it a lot and love it. We never get tired of playing it.”

The student athletes, for their part, love it as much as the fans and band members do. After his final game in Autzen Stadium, a 17–14 win over Oregon State in 2001, Joey Harrington was running back to the locker room when he decided he wanted to hear “Mighty Oregon” one more time.

“We're walking back up the tunnel, and through my career I’d noticed that the band director made that ‘O’ symbol with his hands to signal to the band that he wanted them to play the fight song,” Harrington told the Oregonian. “The crowd is loud, so you can’t yell, ‘Play the fight song!’ so instead, he’d come up with the ‘O’ symbol and he’d give the symbol and the band would play the song.

“I'm walking toward the tunnel for the last time and I had one of those nostalgic moments. I wanted to hear the fight song one more time. I made the ‘O’ signal, I wanted to hear it one more time.”

The band stopped what it was playing and immediately launched into “Mighty Oregon.” While Harrington certainly didn’t invent the concept of “Throwing the O”—that honor belongs to former band director Steven Paul, who needed to communicate to his musicians over the roar of the crowd—he certainly popularized it, and Harrington’s request is now a hand sign used by Ducks worldwide.

On to victory urge the heroes of our Mighty Oregon.

And, now, “Mighty Oregon” even has its own day to commemorate it.

In 2015, 99 years after Perfect disappeared near the Millrace and reappeared days later with the song’s melody, state senator Bill Hansell (R-Athena) and former Oregon Republican Party executive director Greg Leo partnered to sponsor House Bill 3348, designating March 10—the anniversary of the fight song’s first performance by the UO band—as “Mighty Oregon Day.”

Reading in part, “Whereas a day to celebrate ‘Mighty Oregon’ will enrich and educate students and Oregonians about the history and meaning behind the renowned fight song,” Mighty Oregon Day was signed into law by Governor John Kitzhaber on June 25, 2015.

“I was pleased to be a sponsor of the bill which set aside March 10 as Mighty Oregon Day in Oregon,” said Hansell, who is known as “Senator Duck” in Salem because of his support of his alma mater. “As a Duck alumnus, to be able to recognize the University of Oregon Fight Song in this way was pretty special for me. Go Ducks, and Go Mighty Oregon.”

The University of Oregon will be honoring “Mighty Oregon” in a number of different ways throughout its centennial year. For more information, just keep your ears open.

Go Ducks Go!
Fight Ducks Fight!
Win Ducks Win!