Celebrating Black History Month

In honor of Black History Month, we would like to recognize some of the first Black cheerleaders and athletes to portray Brutus at The Ohio State University.

First female Black cheerleader – Bonnie Little, 1973

Bonnie became interested in the sport when she was around 10 years old while in tap, jazz, and ballet classes. She danced at an early age with the Jackie Hardy dance studio. She went on to cheer reserve and varsity at Linden McKinley High School, a predominantly African American school with Columbus City Schools.

Her dad worked for the government and was occasionally given tickets to see the Buckeyes play and he would always take his daughter to the games. She was obsessed with watching the cheerleaders and the band. So, after graduation from Linden McKinley, Bonnie attended Ohio State the fall quarter of 1972. She purchased tickets to go see the Buckeyes play and was excited to see her former junior high school classmate and good friend, Archie Griffin, play. She decided at the end of her first full year at Ohio State to try-out for the cheerleading squad.

Many of her friends told her that “Ohio State would not take a black girl on the team” and to “not waste your time”. Bonnie tried out anyway in the spring of 1973. Out of over 100 candidates, Bonnie made the top 30, but did not make the team. She remembers Ray and Bev Drexel, two cheerleaders on the squad and now married, encouraging her not to give up and to try out again.

Spring of 1974 rolled around and Bonnie tried again. This time she had the support and attendance from her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, to cheer her on in St John Arena. Also in attendance was her classmate, Archie Griffin, and a few of his friends – Cornelius Green and Neal Cozy. Bonnie Roberts became the first female Black cheerleader at The Ohio State University. She went on to cheer for three years until she graduated.

Bonnie Roberts Little stayed in Columbus with her late husband and still lives in the area. She has come out of teaching retirement with Columbus City Schools to be on its recruitment team. Throughout 2020, Bonnie went to live in San Diego to be close to her two children and help with four granddaughters as they navigate covid and school. She plans on coming back to Columbus in February.

Bonnie is also one of the founding members of the Alumni Cheerleader Society and we cannot be more grateful for her contribution to starting what we have today. Cheers to you Bonnie!

First Black Brutus- Keith Burkes, 1974

In 1974, the first African-American Brutus took center stage. Hear from Keith’s own words in this vintage article in The Lantern.


First male Black cheerleader – Larry Smith, 1971

Larry Smith was the first African-American cheerleader at The Ohio State University. He served from 1971 – 1973.

We are still collecting stories and pictures for our archives, so please reach out to OSUCheerBrutusAlumni@gmail.com if you have additional details.