Fight On! Trojan Pride Is Strong—No Matter Where USC Grads Go

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Wave if you know this guy—or better yet, Fight On! Photo Courtesy: Pixabay

If you’re not familiar with the lure of the USC Trojans, you might actually be from another planet, because the Southern California athletics brand is among the America’s most recognizable. There’s many reasons for this, but the most compelling ones are the 107 National Collegiate Athletic Association titles USC has won since the NCAA was founded in 1906—second to only Stanford’s 119 and UCLA’s 116.

USC’s sports success is amplified by some of the most recognizable iconography in all of collegiate athletics. “Fight On,” the Southern Cal fight song composed in 1922 by a student, Milo Sweet, and Glen Grant, becomes familiar after the first few bars. The school’s colors—crimson and gold—and “USC” logo in simple block letters—adorns sweatshirts, caps, shorts and socks all over the country.

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Statue that launched a thousand quips.

Perhaps the Trojan is most identifiable with the school’s athletic tradition, in particular Tommy Trojan, a life-size bronze statue of a Trojan warrior unveiled in 1930 as part of USC’s 50th birthday celebration. The connection with Troy was indelibly linked in 1912, when Los Angeles Times sportswriter Owen Bird compared the USC athletic spirit to that of the ancient Trojans. It’s a somewhat dubious distinction, however; those tricky Greeks outscored the noble sons of Troy in their memorable clash millennia ago.

Then there’s the epic rivalry with cross-town rival, UCLA. The two schools are decidedly different but—when it comes to athletic prowess—evenly matched. USC is private, located in a gritty, downtown LA setting in the midst of urban renewal. Westwood, where UCLA is located, is one of the city’s most upscale neighborhood, which is reflected by the university’s campus, one of the finest in the entire state. 

When the two teams clash later today in a women’s water polo match at UCLA’s Spieker Aquatics Center (4 p.m. PST), it will be the 81st meeting between the two programs, and one freighted with significance. Not only is it the annual end-of season match between the arch-rivals, a ritual that contains its own intensity, it is the first time that Bruins fans will have an opportunity to express themselves since Jovan Vavic, one of the winningest coaches in USC history, was fired due to an indictment in the Varsity Blues admissions scandal.

[Commentary: The Rise and Scandalous Fall Of USC Water Polo Coach Jovan Vavic]

What makes a true Trojan?

Ashley Flanagan Slaughter is a doubly blessed; an undergraduate degree from USC in 1999, where she was a member of the women’s swim team, and and MBA in 2007, from the Marshall School of Business. But Flanagan Slaughter, now in New York City with her husband and two sons, has a much deeper connection to her alma mater. Both her parents and her brother went to USC, and she started attended her first Trojan football games as a toddler—a tradition she continues to this day.

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Ashley Flanagan Slaughter. Photo Courtesy: A. Slaughter

Speaking on the phone from her New York City home, Flanagan Slaughter—who leads Sweat for Smiles, which sponsors fitness-themed parties to highlight worthy charitable organizations—maintains her allegiance to all things Trojan from the other side of the country.

“I am a USC Trojan at heart—it’s in my blood,” she says knowingly. “I grew up going to tailgates with my parents, my brother and family friends.”

Despite the distance—both physical and ideological—between the two coasts, this daughter of Troy is able to keep one foot in both her school and swimming. Every fall she participates in the USC alumni relays, which she describes as “the best” because it allows her to connect with swimmers not from her time on campus.

“It’s really cool to swim again and compete against current swimmers and meet the new team,” she said. “That’s an incredible experience.”

Being part of a team was key to her time at USC. In high school Flanagan Slaughter excelled individually but naturally gravitated to the Trojan way upon joining the squad in 1995.

“Growing up in club swimming I was just focused on my time,” she explained. “But when it comes to swimming at USC—and I imagine it’s the same in other places—your team comes first. You’re working your heart out for the person in the lane next to you.”

Why everyone is NOT a USC sports fan

As a transplanted Trojan, Flanagan Slaughter—an active member of the New York City branch of the USC Alumni network—immediately felt at home because, well, Trojans are everywhere.

“You see someone wearing a USC sweatshirt across the street—which is very easy to see,” she said. “Half the time if you’re wearing [one] too the person has already looked at you and said: ‘Fight On!.’

There are select indicators of Trojan pride; one of the most recognizable is the “Fight On” hand gesture—one that immediate connects members of the vast USC family, even in as dense an urban environment as New York.

Gear is always a big part of a tribal identity, and in the Flanagan Slaughter household—husband Matt went to Georgetown—their two sons maintain a Trojan identity. According to their mom they have USC football jerseys, basketball jerseys, socks and hats, even USC blankets to keep them warm at night.

10/18/14 Los Angeles, CA USC Alumni Association Homecoming Photo by: Steve Cohn © 2014 (310) 277-2054 www.stevecohnphotography.com

Can you pick out the USC fans? Photo Courtesy: Steve Cohn

While sports may be the focal point of many, even Trojan Pride has its limits. When asked why anyone outside of USC should care about their program, Flanagan Slaughter is quick to defend her school.

“USC is the best—I still stand by this—because it has a well-respected academic program and it also has a well-respected athletic program. And drama program. And they’ve got the #1 entrepreneurship program in the country.”

The school has recently been in the news, for all the wrong reasons, as a result of the Varsity Blues admissions scandal. At least three—and perhaps more—applicants were admitted to USC fraudulently, leading defenders to suffer blows to their Trojan pride.

Flanagan Slaughter said that she’s not fully up with all aspects of the scandal, but then verify USC’s place among the nation’s top university, including a ranking in U.S. News and World Reports that has climbed to 22 among national universities.

“The perception [of USC] has changed, especially on the East Coast,” she said. “I’ve been telling people to hire swimmers from USC since I moved here. [The school’s] ranking has been increasing and increasing.”

Then there’s the Bruins

Any good drama contains a discernible villain, a role that UCLA has consistently been cast in by Trojan faithful. In today’s latest drama, the Bruin are likely to be well-represented by their fans, even thought the match will be televised by the Pac12 network. Water polo may not be a major sport, but USC and UCLA represent two of the nation’s best. With the Trojans wounded by the Vavic scandal, the Bruins, who lost 10-3 to a Vavic-led squad back in February, would like nothing better than to compound the misery of their biggest antagonist.

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Those pesky Bruin fans are everywhere too! Photo Courtesy: Catharine Hayne

Besides, no matter what these two schools are contesting, fans from both sides experience an acute negative reaction to each other.

“This is something ingrained in my head since I was born,” said Flanagan Slaughter about her aversion to anything Bruin. “When you’re in New York and you see a UCLA hat or sweatshirt, you’re like: Terrible hat! Terrible shirt!”

She then qualifies that response extends to all things Bruin.

“You can’t wear light blue—and if you do you have to be very careful that you don’t wear any yellow!”

fight-on-galen-mar19Still, as a SoCal native, she’s simpatico with Bruin transplants.

“[You’re] still very connected because they’re from the West Coast and it reminds you of home.”

No matter what the outcome for today’s match—or any contest the Trojans engage in during these tumultuous times, the USC faithful will keep the faith in their Trojans.

“Everybody says: ‘Fight On!’ You may lose a battle but you’re not going to lose the war. And, you’re never gonna give up,” Flanagan Slaughter said.

And Fight On! the Trojans shall.

2 comments

    • avatar
      Michael Randazzo

      Dear Alexandra:

      Yes, Fight On! indeed. I find the culture around USC athletics fascinating – and I was VERY glad for the opportunity to speak with Ashley Flanagan Slaughter about her experiences in Troy.

      Your correspondent