Nov 05, 2014

The Smell of the Greasepaint, the Roar of the Hellraisers

Members of the UT spirit group, The Longhorn Hellraisers, stampede toward the stadium to watch the Texas v. BYU football game on Sept. 6, 2014. Photo by Andie Rogers/Reporting Texas

Members of UT spirit group the Longhorn Hellraisers stampede toward Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial stadium for the football game against Brigham Young University. Photo by Andie Rogers/Reporting Texas

By Courtney Norris
For Reporting Texas

It’s 5:30 p.m. on a late October Saturday – game day for the Longhorns — which means it’s time for the Longhorn Hellraisers to meet at Jack in the Box on Guadalupe Street.

The group bursts through the front doors, not to order food but to run laps inside and out of the restaurant, which is a tradition before marching to Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. Some Hellraisers hold up an oversized banner with the group’s name on it and chant as they parade toward the stadium, where Texas will face Brigham Young University.

Their enthusiasm intrigues onlookers, who snap pictures and roll videos. They are moving so fast that some people run to catch up with the group for the right shot.

The Hellraisers are the face of the University of Texas on TV. Students know them as the fans in the front row at football games with orange and white painted faces and chests, cheering and yelling at the top of their lungs – even when UT is losing. But these Longhorns make it their mission to attend almost all UT athletic events, on or off campus, home or away – if they can afford it – including football, baseball, volleyball or whatever the sport may be, men’s and women’s teams alike.

New Hellraisers receive a white shirt embroidered with the group’s name. The burnt orange stains on their uniforms make it easy to determine who’s a rookie and who’s a veteran among the 70 or so members. First-semester Hellraisers’ shirts have wet paint on them. Veterans‘ shirts have stains that have been earned over the years.

New members do a tryout before the group’s leaders, but no one is turned down.

The group was ecstatic when UT President Bill Powers said in his most recent State of the University address that one of the highlights of his presidency was sitting with Hellraisers at games.

All members paint their faces on game day. But each school year, five members are chosen to wear a letter from “Texas” greasepainted on their chests. It’s a privilege given to those who have put in time at different sporting events.

Jon Paul Perez – E – is like the quarterback of the Hellraisers. His voice rises above the rest when the group cheers, and he stands out with long locks that he wears braided down his back on game day. Although he doesn’t show it on ESPN, Perez has ‘OU Sucks’ tattooed on  his rear end.

Andrew Roche – the letter A this year – can attest to the tattoo.

“There are many perks to being a letter,” he said. “Lots of air time is one of them. My family and friends will blow up my Facebook page when I get on TV. It’s nice when people acknowledge our effort. It makes it all worth it.”

This year, it’s T for Trevor Montgomery. During his last semester at UT, he is making it his mission to make Texas fans get wild. He whips his long brown hair back and forth for shots on the Jumbotron and fans watching the game at home.

“I’m like a different person when I walk into this stadium,” Montgomery said. “I love the feeling of getting out of control and letting loose.”

Ethan Johnson, X, joined Hellraisers because he grew up watching them and is a diehard Longhorn fan.

“All I knew was that they were crazy guys you see on TV all painted up, and I wanted to be a part of it,” Johnson said. “These are the times that create friendships that last forever.”

James Ford, S, was recruited at a volleyball game his freshman year.

The co-ed group is serious about presentation. Moments before kickoff, the Hell’s Belles, a title given to female members, dip their fingers in greasepaint, to outline letters onto five very sweaty chests. The women paint their own faces as well, and add to the volume when the Hellraisers let loose at games.

“We use grease paint because it sticks to skin better,” Sherry Mendoza, a former Hell’s Belle, said. “Usually, we’re assigned the same letter every game.”

Before and after every football game, Hellraisers President Emil Zawatski delivers a short speech. His signature face paint is an orange and white version of Heath Ledger’s Joker in “Batman Forever. “

It began 26 years ago with a few Texas students who wanted more enthusiasm from the stands. Their mission was to motivate athletes and raise hell, win or lose.

After UT lost to Brigham Young, 41-7, Zawatski said he was disappointed by the fans who noticeably cleared the stadium by the third quarter.

“We take being a Texas Longhorn as a blessing,” Zawatski said. “We want our team to know we always got their back, no matter the score of the game.”