Part of U Episode 6: John Bircumshaw and the Origins of “Flash the U”

Legendary Ute fan, John Bircumshaw, shared with the Part of U series his passion for the University of Utah’s gymnastics program and where the Flash the U hand gesture all began.

“The story behind the Block U, the Flashing U, or the Utah hand signal has evolved over time and it first started in 2001,” said Bircumshaw.

He explained how student athlete, Melissa Vituj’s father couldn’t make it to all of the gymnastics meets as he lived in Michigan. Her father talked with Bircumshaw about representing him in the crowd for Melissa since he couldn’t be there. They often would communicate through hand gestures during meets, which slowly evolved into incorporating them into routines. Now Ute fans and athletes everywhere in different sports use the Flash the U signal to represent their teams and the university.

“I think it has brought the University of Utah community, alumni associations from across the country, fans from across the country, all of our teams, all of our student athletes, and all of our fans in all sports together,” said Bircumshaw. “It’s unified us and I think that’s great.”

Bircumshaw can be found greeting fans and players at the beginning of each meet and often leads the U-T-A-H cheer during gymnastics meets. He has a passion for the Utah Athletics, but is particularly proud of Utah Gymnastics.

“I’m proud to be part of U. I’m proud to be a University of Utah fan, and very proud to be as close to the University of Utah’s gymnastics program as I am,” Bircumshaw said.

Utah Gymnastics begin their 2016 season with a meet against BYU on Jan. 8. Tickets are available through