Longhorn Who Popularized Hook ‘Em Hand Sign Dies

Longhorn Who Popularized Hook ‘Em Hand Sign Dies

On a cool Friday evening in November 1955, then-Dean Arno Nowotny was upbraiding UT head cheerleader Harley Clark.

What gives you the right to call something an official university symbol, the dean of students demanded. “And,” he huffed, “do you know what that sign means in Sicily?!”

The story of how Judge Harley Clark, BA ’57, MA ’60, LLB ’62, Life Member, popularized the Hook ’em Horns hand sign is the stuff of legend. And Clark’s lifetime of dedication to his university made him a legend in his own right among friends and alumni of the university.

Clark died on Thursday morning. He was 78 years old. HarleyClarkCheer

Back in 1955, the Longhorns were struggling. The football team had gotten off to a 4-4 start, and won only half their Southwest Conference games. But since the Aggies were out of the running due to recruiting violations, the Horns had a shot at the Cotton Bowl—if they could beat TCU.

In anticipation of the game, students combined the annual fundraising drive, called Campus Chest, with a football rally. With crimson hex candles burning in storefronts and homes around Austin, students paraded across campus to Gregory Gym, where, after a revival-style fundraising show, Harley Clark and the Texas cheerleaders pumped up the crowd for Saturday’s game.

Then Clark did something unplanned. He lifted his hands in the now familiar gesture—one suggested to him days earlier by classmate Henry “HK” Pitts, BA ’56, Life Member, and told the crowd it was the new, official hand sign of the university.

That’s what had Nowotny fuming. Clark responded that he was only 19 years old, and no, he didn’t know it was an offensive gesture in Italy.

“Just be glad we’re not the unicorns,” Clark said. But there was nothing he could do. The next day, a stadium full of Longhorn faithful lifted their horns up, and the rest, of course, is history.

And Clark has been a part of that history ever since. The Horns, by the way, were beaten soundly that Saturday, but it’s the hand sign—and Clark—that people remember.

Clark was a dynamic presence on the Forty Acres. From 1957-58, he served as student body president, and was a member of the Texas Cowboys, the Friar Society, and the Tejas Club. Prior to returning to UT to earn his law degree, he served in the U.S. Marine Corps. After law school, Clark became a well-respected trial lawyer, and in 1977, Gov. Dolph Briscoe, BBA ’43, Distinguished Alumnus, appointed him to a newly created district judgeship in Travis County.

A decade later, in 1987—the same year that he ruled on a landmark school financing case—Judge Clark waded into a real legal hornet’s next: the fight between engineers and lawyers. UT law students had stolen the engineer’s mascot, a statue of a bacchanalian figure called Alec, as part of an ongoing rivalry-slash-prank war. When the engineers stole Alec back, the law students took them, perhaps unsurprisingly, to court. The case came to Clark, himself a former trial lawyer. He ruled against the law students, however, and Alec stayed with the engineers.

A dedicated Texas Exes Ambassador, Clark was a welcoming face at clark_harley_fullfootball tailgates for years. In 2006, the Board of Regents named the Harley Clark/Tejas Scholarship in his honor. He was Life Member No. 40 of the Texas Exes.

“Today Texas Exes mourn the passing of a man who embodied the spirit of our beloved university,” said Texas Exes president Kay Bailey Hutchison, LLB ’67, BA ’92, Life Member, Distinguished Alumna. “Harley Clark introduced the Hook ’em Horns hand sign, a symbol of Longhorn pride that is recognized and shared around the globe. His love and dedication to UT-Austin will never be forgotten.”

Clark is survived by his wife Patti Clark, BS ’79, ME ’81, Life Member, daughters Cari Clark, BA ’83, and her husband Mike Valigura; Paige Suffredini, BA ’85, and her husband John Suffredini BA ’84; Jeneffer Allen and her husband Cal Allen; and his youngest daughter Teel Mayo Clark. Harley had five grandchildren: Clark Schwab, Thomas Schwab, Hannah Valigura, Abbey Allen, and Sophia Suffredini.

Clark also embraced gardening, growing organic vegetables along a tributary of Onion Creek. His produce supplied Austin restaurants like Asti and Fino. When asked whether he found the upside-down Hook ’em sign sometimes used by the school’s rivals insulting, Clark gave a different take: The “Horns down” gesture was the perfect way to space out onion bulbs.

From top: Clark at Gone to Texas in 2013, photo by Marsha Miller; Clark as head cheerleader, Cactus Yearbook; demonstrating the Hook ’em hand sign, courtesy UT Athletics.


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