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Hand it to a pair of former Wildcat swimmers for creating the 'WC' sign

Posted at 3:02 PM, Nov 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-01 18:02:25-04

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — This is homecoming week for the University of Arizona. It culminates Saturday with a football game against Cal.

While at the game many fans will be flashing the Wildcat sign.

Arizona fans use the hand gesture whenever they want to show their Wildcat pride or to inspire the team to Bear Down.

It's a simple gesture—extend your pinky, ring and middle fingers to form a W. Bend your index finger and thumb to form the C. The W for "wild" and C for "cat." Wildcats!

Arizona athletic teams have been flashing the "WC" for nearly two decades.

Wildcat diver Delaney Schnell flashing it recently after winning an Olympic silver medal.

Delaney Schnell making the Wildcat sign with her silver medal

Former Arizona Basketball standout Josh Green doing the same after grabbing Olympic bronze.

Ex-Wildcat star running back Ka'Deem Carey famously flashing the "WC" after breaking Arizona's rushing record in 2012.

"Going to home football games and see everyone throw it, you know everybody around you, and sometimes I want to be like hey I was kind of the guy who started that," said Greg Owen.

That's right, Greg Owen is kind of the guy who started that.

So, how did a South African swimming for the U of A come up with the Wildcat symbol? He had some help.

Back in the spring of 2003, Englishman Simon Burnett joined the Arizona Swim Team. Burnett and Owen became fast friends.

On a long drive to the Pac-12 Championships in Long Beach, the two worked on a way to show their Wildcat pride.

Burnett often used the OK sign to show his approval. That became their inspiration.

"We looked at it," Owen explained. "We knew it would be cool if us Wildcats had our own sort of hand sign like some of the other schools. That's how it progressed. If you do it with your right hand, you've got the W right there and then the C for Wildcats."

Burnett broke it out later in the 2003 season at the NCAA Championships. The freshman surprised everyone with his performance in the 200 freestyle.

Arizona swimmer Simon Burnett flashes Wildcat sign for first time

"He wins it out of lane 8," remembered Owen. "So this unknown guy from nowhere wins it out of lane 8. Of course, we're all going nuts. There, he threw it up there. So, I think that might have been the first time seen on the national scene I would say."

Legendary swim coach Frank Busch then encouraged the team to use the Wildcat hand sign and make it their own.

"He liked it. It progressed from there. He wanted us to do it and of course this is something authentic. This is something that we felt was ours, the University of Arizona Wildcats. Let's roll with it."

They did and the rest of the Arizona sports teams followed.

Now, you will see Wildcat athletes flash it crossing the finish line, posing for group or team photos and even after surgery—like Arizona quarterback Jordan McCloud.

The Wildcat sign is now a fixture for Arizona Athletics.

Owen is a husband and father of two. He is also a captain with Northwest Fire. He says he is still amazed when he takes his family to an Arizona football game.

Former Arizona swimmer Greg Owen flashes Wildcat sign he helped create

"There's signs and shirts and the foam hands that you can buy at the field," said Owen. "I'm like holy cow this thing's blown up. It's pretty cool to think that hey there's this legacy that I may have been a part of."

A Wildcat legacy that began with two University of Arizona swimmers that has now become "Absolutely Arizona."

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Pat Parris is an anchor and reporter for KGUN 9. He is a graduate of Sabino High School where he was the 1982 high school state track champion in the 800 meters. While in high school and college, he worked part-time in the KGUN 9 newsroom. His father, Jack Parris, is a former general manager of the station. Share your story ideas and important issues with Pat by emailing pat.parris@kgun9.com or by connecting on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.