When I was attending York High School in Elmhurst, there was a school cheer that became more disturbing to me as years passed. It went like this:
Benito, Benito, Benito Mussolini, hey…nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, hey!
That final part of this chant was sung to the approximate tune of "Volga Boatmen."
Over the years, Carolyn and I often reflected on the oddness of this high school chant to a fascist leader …especially odd to me in that my dad fought his way up through Italy with the Fifth Army, battling my mom's countrymen, who had the misfortune to align with Hitler's Germany (apologists will say Mussolini had no choice, and he probably didn't).
Anyway, we heard this cheer at York High basketball games, which would frequently involve whole bleachers of students. The cheer was frequently lead, enthusiastically and with much bravado, by a young man named Mario Stefani.
We ran into Stefani (pictured with Carolyn) a few weeks ago at a high school reunion held at Mack's Golden Pheasant in Elmhurst.*
I asked Stefani about the genesis of this cheer, which I had always imagined sprang forth spontaneously and full blown from his fevered imagination.
Stefani, who was a transfer student to York in the late 60s, said he first heard the cheer when he was a student at Fenwick, in Oak Park! Then, just as surprisingly, and stranger and stranger, he actually heard this very cheer just six years ago at a Lyons Township game.
This odd chant to Mussolini, which apparently has been making the rounds in the Western Suburbs for at least 40 years, is not dead -- and it wasn't, as we'd long suspected, just a one-off event dreamed up by Stefani.
If you've heard this chant coming from the bleachers at any local games, I'd love to hear about it.
*Obligatory food reference