EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Say goodbye to the UTEP Golddiggers.
The University of Texas at El Paso has dropped the iconic Golddigger name after nearly a century, officially replacing it with UTEP Dance Team.
Seemingly overnight and without any real fanfare or announcement, the name change actually happened four years ago and coincided with a coaching change.
“They did ask me, you know. … They thought, ‘Hey, I think it’s time for a name change.’ And I was in full support of that,” said Leslie Lopez, the fourth-year head coach of the UTEP Dance Team. “So they kind of gave me the go-ahead … ‘Hey, what would you like to change it to?'”
The new name eventually came to her and, thus, began what Lopez calls a new era of dance at UTEP, which itself has had several name changes in its 108-year history: the Texas State School of Mines and Metallurgy; Texas Western College; and the University of Texas at El Paso, or UTEP.
Lopez recognizes that fans and some alumni, as well as former Golddiggers, might not be completely on-board with the new name, adding that they often ask why she changed it in the first place and if she thought something was wrong with it.
“I always come back and say, you know, … the Golddiggers are still cheering UTEP,” Lopez said. “It’s still home, and we’re just named UTEP Dance Team. We just made it a little bit cleaner. And, you know, … the Golddiggers are still here in heart and spirit, in our moves, in our choreography. So, I would say that to them that we’re carrying on their legacy.”
For former Golddigger Melanie Thomas, the name change has taken some getting used to.
“I was really disappointed. And I know a lot of people that were Golddiggers felt the same way,” Thomas said. “I mean, we are the Miners. So, I mean, are we going to change the football and the basketball to the UTEP Football Team and take away Miners? You know, miners were not a well-thought-of group of individuals, the people that worked in the mines. … But I know the ‘woke’ people, right now, are not happy about Golddiggers. It gives you a bad connotation.”
Still, Thomas remains a huge fan and supporter of the UTEP Dance Team and what they’ve accomplished in this new era.
“She’s done a great job,” Thomas said of Lopez. “I just thought they looked very professional. You could tell that she was really making an effort to give them the look that they should have on the field. It is a family event. And it just I was very impressed, very impressed.”
‘Not a dancer, a Golddigger’
Thomas recently sat down to speak with KTSM, and she brought with her dozens of photographs, newspaper clippings and keepsakes from her time as a UTEP Golddigger from 1975-78.
“It was really great. … And we had a much smaller team. I think there were maybe only about 20 of us,” Thomas said. “And most of them danced every game. Occasionally, somebody couldn’t be there, something would happen. But we were all really close because it was such a small group. And we also danced at all the football games, of course, a couple of them out of town. And then, when basketball season happened, we danced for several of the games.”
Thomas recalled being invited back to a homecoming football game for the university’s 75th anniversary and being honored on the field at halftime.
“We had alumni Golddiggers and band on the field at homecoming,” she said. “And one of the ladies was 92. And she was very proud to be a Golddigger, not a dancer, a Golddigger. And I was very proud to be a Golddigger.”
“We had alumni Golddiggers and band on the field at homecoming. … And one of the ladies was 92. And she was very proud to be a Golddigger, not a dancer, a Golddigger. And I was very proud to be a Golddigger.”Melanie Thomas, UTEP Golddigger 1975-78
Thomas says she has season tickets to the UTEP football and basketball games, but what she likes most is seeing the UTEP Dance Team perform and how they’ve kept some of the traditional choreography and cheers.
“I was very glad to see that. You know, they’re not the old-fashioned type of drill team like we were. But they were similar, and they did a dance that was respectful,” she said. “And just I was very proud to be able to say I used to be one of those dancers. So yes, great, great job they’re doing.”
Despite their former suggestive name, the Golddiggers have entertained Miner fans on the sidelines and during the halftimes of countless Miner football and basketball games since at least the 1930s.
“At the time, they were aware of the negative connotation that comes with that term, you know, chasing money,” said Erick Balandran, a research assistant for UTEP Special Collections Department. “But the girls at the time didn’t care. They went along with it because that was a fun and funny way to go and show off that school spirit.”
Balandran took KTSM on a trip down Golddigger memory lane, letting us flip through old yearbooks and articles.
The Golddiggers’ school spirit shone through on those pages, from the time of their first performance, until the 1970s. And not only at UTEP games, but at community and humanitarian events.
“They were involved in the war effort with World War II to keep your morale up and going,” Balandran said. “They’ve been so heavily involved with the community, both inside and outside of the campus, that I think they definitely deserve a lot more recognition.”
‘We’re in a new era’
Keeping that legacy alive is as much the goal of head coach Lopez as moving the UTEP Dance team into the 21st century and beyond.
“You know, we’re in a new era,” she said. “It needed to be more of a collegiate look.”
The new looks and new moves — and new name — were inspired by a trip to Orlando, Florida, where the UTEP Cheer Team invited Lopez for a national cheer competition at Disney World.
“So I watched a lot of the different collegiate teams, and they had very simple, clean, classic names,” Lopez said. “So from there, we decided, you know, let’s just use our name, which is UTEP, and just add dance team to it. So I would say the other collegiate dance teams really encouraged me to name it as what we’re known now: UTEP Dance Team.”
Current members of the UTEP Dance Team also recognize their place in school history and that it’s up to them too, to not only keep traditions alive but create new ones.
Two team members recently took a brief break from band camp to talk about the new-era UTEP Dance Team.
“Well, I think it was interesting because, of course, you do know it as the Golddiggers if you’ve lived here for a long time, if you’ve grown up here,” said Aliseana Lopez, a member of the UTEP Dance Team. “So it’s really interesting to just how we have changed as a team, how we’re improving, and what our new era of being the UTEP Dance Team means for us and for the community.”
Kaitlyn Bradham, who’s entering her fifth year on the team, started dancing when she attended the Golddiggers Dance Camp, and now she runs the dance camp.
“It means a lot for me to be on this team,” Bradham said. “I have seen it grow tremendously since my first year. And it’s a really cool way to say that, hey, ‘I’m a proud first-gen UTEP student and I’m here representing my university through dance, which I love to do.”
The UTEP Dance Team is part of a bigger team known as UTEP Spirit, which includes the cheerleaders, marching band, flag team and the mascot, Paydirt Pete.
“It’s really important for the community. I think us, as a team, as team members we work together to be a good representation of our community, especially when we go out of town, we go to competition, we go to camp, when we go to other places. We want to make sure that we’re representing El Paso in a really good way,” Aliseana Lopez said. “And I think we’re accomplishing it. I think we’re doing a great job. And I think we’re going to continue to get better with it or add it and we’re just going to have a great year; we’re going to have a great year representing our city.”
The UTEP Dance Team under Leslie Lopez is already reaching new milestones.
The coach said her team performed at a summer camp at Southern Methodist University, showcasing the UTEP game-day routine, and they got first place. They received a silver bid, which means that for the first time in Golddigger/UTEP Dance Team history, they will compete at nationals in Daytona, Florida,
“Even though we’re not called the Golddiggers anymore, that doesn’t mean we’re not carrying on the traditions or the legacies,” she said. “We’re actually still carrying those traditions and creating new legacies. So I mean, I’m just honored to be a part of it. And to help the team grow into the UTEP Dance Team.”
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