Robert Clayton “Red” Matthews

1878–1978

Robert Matthews, professor of mechanical engineering and nationally prominent executive secretary of Tau Beta Pi, the engineering honor society, joined the faculty in 1907 and remained at UT until his retirement in 1949. Although he was a highly regarded teacher and epitomized distinction in the profession through his work as secretary and then secretary-treasurer of Tau Beta Pi, it is as UT’s first cheerleader that he is most vividly remembered.

His cheerleading began at Monmouth High School (Monmouth, Illinois) where in 1895 he led rooters from Monmouth at a state track meet in Evanston. While a student at the University of Illinois (1898–1902), Matthews introduced cartwheels and handstands into his leading of cheers and continued his cheerleading as an instructor in drawing in the Engineering Department. He came to UT in 1907 as professor of engineering but returned to Illinois to lead the cheers at the Illinois-Chicago game that fall. Dr. Charles Waite, then professor of chemistry and chairman of the Athletic Council, was in attendance and saw Matthews perform. In chapel the next week, Waite told of his experience at Illinois and asked Matthews to lead cheers in the assembly. In 1907 UT football games were played without cheerleaders, and Matthews consented to become UT’s first cheerleader. He led the cheers from 1907 through 1916. He first led cheers at the Tennessee-Kentucky game in 1907 at Chilhowee Park (in the mud). By then 37 years old, his last appearance as regular cheerleader in an orange cap and white sweater with orange armband was at the 1916 Vanderbilt game, which underdog UT won 10-6. But he made a final “guest appearance” in 1940, wearing his old cheerleading uniform and assisted the cheerleaders. In 1967 the students recognized him as UT’s biggest fan by selecting him as the grand marshal of the Homecoming Parade. He died in 1978 at the age of 99. Ripley included him among his Believe It or Not! cartoons and credited him with being the first cheerleader in college sports.

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  • Title Robert Clayton “Red” Matthews
  • Coverage 1878–1978
  • Author
  • Keywords Robert Clayton “Red” Matthews
  • Website Name Volopedia
  • Publisher University of Tennessee Libraries
  • URL
  • Access Date April 21, 2024
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update October 9, 2018