The forecast for Saturday indicates only a small variation in temperature: high of 38, low of 32. This could come with the bonus of a mix of rain and snow.

The Gophers’ unbeaten escape artists of the gridiron are hosting Nebraska in a contest that will be filling a 6:30 p.m. time slot on FS1.

The Gophers will be supported by 42 cheerleaders and 17 dance team members from the University of Minnesota’s spirit squads program. They will be wearing their classy wind-resistant garb, with pants, jackets and stocking hats.

It was not always thus.

“We didn’t have cold-weather cheer uniforms,’’ Dana Williams said. “We wore our skirts. We would have gloves on when it was cold. That was it.’’

Dana came to the U from Washburn High School in the mid-1970s. She was the second black woman to cheer for the Gophers, following Vernetta Baldez from Minneapolis Central earlier in the ’70s.

Dana’s mother, Harriet Bowman (now Solomon), was a pioneer when it came to being a black student cheering in Minneapolis city high schools. Gwendolyn Morrow (now Fraction) was the first at North High School in 1949, and Harriet followed a couple of years later at Central.

“My mom and Gwen became best friends for life,’’ Dana said. “They still are, still doing great. She’s ‘Aunt Gwen’ to me.”

Harriet’s brother Earl Bowman was a standout athlete at Macalester, a legendary football and track coach at Minneapolis Central and a college education administrator.

Dana was raised by Harriet and stepfather Edward Solomon, so well-known for his work with Minneapolis parks that there’s one named for him at Lake Nokomis.

She took ballet lessons and was part of the Minnesota Dance Theater children’s workshop, and first showed off her skills on campus in several appearances in “The Nutcracker” at Northrop auditorium.

Dana moved from ballet to cheerleading at Washburn. The cheerleading was taken seriously, to the point the Washburn squad took a trip to the United Cheerleaders Association’s summer camp at Middle Tennessee State.

There was no such commitment to be found at the University of Minnesota. “I hate to say it, but Paul Giel was kind of cheap,” Williams said. “He was a great Gopher, but as an athletic director, he was cheap.”

Then Dana Perdue, she saw a tryout poster at the U for cheerleading late in her freshman year and showed up. Richard Moody was also at those tryouts and would become the first black male cheerleader for the Gophers.

“You know Moody — the fashion guy, the party thrower, ‘I am Moody?’ ” she said. “Everyone knows Moody.”

There were a total of 16 cheerleaders selected in 1975: eight women, eight men. Dana and Richard, the two black squad members, were put together.

“That was fine with us,” Dana said. “Even then, Moody was one of the funniest, and most fun, people in the world.”

These were the early days of Title IX and women’s athletics at the U. The eight pairs of cheerleaders basically covered three sports: football, hockey and men’s basketball.

“Hockey was tough, because I couldn’t skate,” Dana said. “I would sort of glide out there, lean into the person in front me in line, raise an arm and shake a pompom.”

Giel’s big-spending athletic department did send cheerleaders to road football games.

“Two pair … four of us,” she said, “I was on the trip to Iowa. We rode the team bus. No band, either. We’d stand down in a corner and lead a cheer for 300 Gophers fans.”

Williams left the U after her junior year and went to flight attendant school. Moody followed a year later. She has been flying for Northwest and now Delta for 41 years.

“I have Moody by a year in seniority,’’ she said. “That kills him.

Williams’ daughter Taylor is also flying for Delta, after coaching spirit squads at DeLaSalle for four years.

The University of Minnesota has had Sam Owens as its spirit squads head coach for 22 years. He now has four full-time coaches and seven part-timers. The cheerleaders and dancers are letter-winning athletes with squads that perform at games and compete nationally.

“We had someone to keep a schedule, but our captains did the coaching,” Dana said. “Dede Savage was the captain for the four girls. She was tough; worked us hard.”

Never taught you to skate, though? “No, still can’t skate,” Dana said.

That’s not a problem in 2019. Owens has a head hockey cheerleading coach and assistant hockey cheerleading coach. And I’d guess a major requirement for a hockey cheer assignment is being able to skate, including backward.

 

Write to Patrick Reusse by e-mailing sports@startribune.com and including his name in the subject line.