It was 2003. California Memorial Stadium roared as the Cal versus USC football game went into triple overtime. In the stands, a baby girl celebrated her first birthday. Her parents cradled her with concern — expecting tears — but were surprised to find a gleeful, beaming smile on her face.
Cal won that game 34-31, but did not win another home football game against USC until 2021, when that same smiling girl — Megan Darzynkiewicz, a campus junior majoring in political science and theater performance studies — began her first year as a Cal Spirit “mic man.”
As a sixth-generation UC Berkeley student, Darzynkiewicz grew up watching the mic men lead cheers at Cal football games and recognized how fans’ spirit could turn the tide of the game. She said she has known she wanted to be a mic man since she was nine years old and is now one of the team captains.
“I like being an initiator. I’m a performer at my core; that creates a response,” Darzynkiewicz said. “I’ve seen probably every single home game since I was born. It’s a huge part of my family’s culture and my personality.”
Even before getting into UC Berkeley, Darzynkiewicz brought Cal Spirit to Truckee High School in Truckee, California. She got the students, the band and the cheer team involved and stood at the front of the crowd with a megaphone to lead cheers. Even years later, the high school continues many of the traditions she modeled off of Cal Spirit.
With her favorite colors since childhood being blue and gold and her favorite animal being the bear, it was inevitable that she would join Rally Committee, a Cal Spirit group that keeps UC Berkeley tradition and history alive — even virtually in 2020 at the height of the pandemic. Darzynkiewicz sent emails to the mic men in anticipation of the in-game audition. A year later, she was on the field leading chants.
Darzynkiewicz noted how her experience as a mic man increased her confidence and ability to think on her feet.
Darzynkiewicz said she loves her fellow mic men; they like her brothers and she can turn to them if she needs help. She recounted the 2021 Cal vs. Stanford away game in which the mic men did not have mics on the field, so they supported each other in yelling and communicating as a team.
“Megan is a leader. Megan is never afraid to step up to any task given to her. She is very talented with presentation skills, commanding audiences with or without the mic,” said fellow mic man Zach Schubert in an email. “She knows every spirit song, tradition, and fact from Cal history, and it shows with the energy and creativity she brings to rallies and games.”
Darzynkiewicz said Cal Spirit solidarity is truly unlike anything she’s witnessed before and is a huge fan of all spirit groups on campus, including the band and the dance team.
As Darzynkiewicz thinks about her future mark on the world, she is thankful for her mic man experience. She recognizes how credible orators know how to ride the crowd’s energy and redirect it toward the causes that they are passionate about.
“Her voice and energy became the oxygen for their cheers and roars. It’s honestly incredible,” said fellow mic man Abram Moudi in an email. “What she brings is a level of compassion and excitement that I only aspire to have. She embodies what each Mic Man strives to be.”
According to Darzynkiewicz, she is one of the few female UC Berkeley mic men in history.
Reflecting on her female predecessors, Darzynkiewicz noted she heard stories of the first female mic man from the 1980s who did not complete her full term. The first full-time mic man was Kate Scott in 2003. Today, Scott is the play-by-play voice of the Philadelphia 76ers for NBC Sports Philadelphia.
“The mic men weren’t and aren’t just leading cheers, they’re playing a very important role in the overall Cal game day experience,” Scott said in an email. “I took that responsibility personally, of bringing joy to people’s lives – even if just for a few hours a few times a week – and still do in the job I hold today.”
Darzynkiewicz said she feels lucky to have Scott’s precedent, but she still faces challenges to go against society’s “underlying biases.”
She noted she prefers the term “mic man” over “mic woman” because man still refers to mankind as a whole. Originally, mic men were called “yell leaders” and Darzynkiewicz appreciates the term’s gender inclusivity. But she doubts the name will change in her time.
“We’re breaking into something that has been male dominated for a long time,” Darzynkiewicz said. “I’m trying to instill the importance and talent that women can have in this position.”
The mic men love to chest bump in celebration, but Darzynkiewicz joked that she is small and unbalanced, so she’d probably get catapulted across the stage.
She also said she takes on a more assertive tone and purposefully lowers her vocal register and projects louder to be heard.
“The world is changing and I think we’re going to start having more female mic men. Last year, our team was the most diverse mic man team that’s ever existed,” Darzynkiewicz said. “What’s awesome is that it’s in our hands because we’re the ones that are choosing the mic men. We get the chance to pick more representative mic men.”