Cheerleading’s roots are closely tied to American football’s. The first intercollegiate game was played in 1869, between Princeton University and Rutgers University in New Jersey, and by the 1880s, Princeton had formed an all-male pep club. A graduate of Princeton, Thomas Peebles, took the Princeton cheers to the University of Minnesota, where football and fight songs were becoming very popular. In 1898, U of M was on a losing streak, and a medical student named Johnny Campbell assembled a group to energize the team and the crowd. Johnny picked up a megaphone and rallied the team to victory with the first organized cheer: “Rah, Rah, Rah! Ski-U-Mah! Hoo-Rah! Hoo-Rah! Varsity! Varsity! Minn-e-so-tah!
Cheerleading grew from there. It wasn’t until 1923 that women were allowed to cheer for the first time, at the University of Minnesota. During this decade, cheerleaders added tumbling and acrobatics to their routines, and a University of Oregon cheerleader used flashcards for the first time. Although women were joining teams in the ‘20s, it wasn’t until the ‘40s that they joined in large numbers, since so many college-aged men went off to fight in World War II.
In 1948, Southern Methodist University cheerleader Lawrence “Herkie” Herkimer held the first summer cheerleading clinic at Sam Houston State Teacher’s College (now State University), and went on to develop his signature “Herkie” jump, the spirit stick and the pom pon, all cheerleading staples to this day. In 1961, he incorporated the National Cheerleaders Association (NCA).
By the 1960s, cheerleading could be found in virtually every high school and grade school across the country, and pee wee and youth leagues had developed as well. In 1974, Jeff Webb (who had been general manager of NCA) founded Universal Cheerleaders Association (UCA), which taught higher level skills. The ‘80s decade brought the launch of many more event companies, as well as AACCA (American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators), in 1987, the first association devoted to teaching safety to coaches and advisors. UCA has grown into Varsity Spirit Corp., today, encompassing 17 cheerleading event, apparel and service companies.
All-star cheerleading started in the late ‘80s, and grew rapidly through the ‘90s. All-star cheerleading focused on athletic training and competition performances, as opposed to school-based cheerleading, which still encompassed leadership and spirit qualities. Today, many companies offer both scholastic and all-star categories, and some companies focus primarily on all-star cheerleading.
The original purpose of cheerleading is still relevant in today’s world, even with the increasing popularity of competition.
Cheerleaders are the promoters of their schools and communities. They are a key marketing tool to the athletics programs that they support, and they create the community patriotism we call “school spirit.” Most importantly, they are tomorrow’s leaders who through the development of athletic skills, leadership, and teamwork will be vital members of the community in the future. Be a cheerleader and become a leader.