Whenever you go to a sporting event, no matter what sport or level, fans love to cheer for their favorite teams. This has been so as long as sporting events have taken place, but organized cheering (or cheerleading) dates back to 1898. Thomas Peebles brought cheering to the University of Minnesota from Princeton University, but student Johnny Campbell took it on and led the crowd in the organized cheer of “Rah, Rah, Rah! Sku-u-mar! Hoo-Rah! Hoo-Rah! Varsity! Varsity! Minn-e-so-tah!” His leading of the cheers at the game merited a write up in the November 12, 1898 edition of the “Ariel” stating that Campbell and the others leading the crowd in cheers would “see to it that everybody leaves the park today breathless and voiceless.” Shortly after this game, an organized squad was formed at the University of Minnesota that consisted of six male students.
At the turn of the century, cheerleading as an organized activity or sport began to expand. By 1903 the first cheerleading fraternity, Gamma Sigma, was formed. In the 1920’s women began to become active in cheerleading, because until about 1923 cheerleaders were only males. When women joined the ranks of cheerleaders, items like megaphones and acrobatic or gymnastic moves were added to the routines. The pom-pom (what some might consider the ultimate symbol of a cheerleader) was invented by Fred Gastoff in 1965.
The National Cheerleaders Association (or NCA) was formed in 1948 by Lawrence “Herkie” Herkimer, a former cheerleader for Southern Methodist University. He formed this association to hold clinics for cheerleaders, and the first clinic (held in 1949) consisted of 52 female participants. He also formed the Cheerleading Supply Company in 1953, which retailed skirts and sweaters for cheerleading teams and groups.
During the 1970’s cheerleading gained a boost – a very glamorous boost – when the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders became a recognized group with the trademark revealing blue and white uniforms and stylish dance moves. Professional football teams weren’t the only ones with cheerleading squads – other sports such as basketball, baseball and hockey caught on to the popularity of cheering and created their own cheerleading squads for themselves.
In 1978 the first Collegiate Cheerleading Championship was aired on television on CBS, as competition among cheerleading squads began to grow. In the 1980’s the cable sports network ESPN began to air the National High School Cheerleading Competition. As the popularity and love of the activity grew, so did the difficulty and complexity of the routines. Along with the increase in degree of difficulty of the routines came concerns for the safety of the participants. Most cheerleading organizations have adopted universal safety standards to help ensure the safety of the participants and decrease the number of injuries sustained.
In today’s society, cheerleading is a big part of the American culture. There are movies that have made the sport of cheerleading popular (such as the Bring it On series of movies). Reality television programs have featured cheerleaders (“Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders Making the Team” and the WE television reality program” Cheerleader Nation”). Serious fans can find video games about cheerleading for the Nintendo and Wii entertainment systems. Many of today’s most popular figures were former cheerleaders – including President George W. Bush, Madonna, Paula Abdul and Vanna White.
Cheerleading remains very popular, with thousands of young men and women attending camps and clinics to learn the latest cheerleading routines and skills. There are estimates that 97% of the people involved in organized cheerleading today are female, but at the collegiate level the participation level for men and women is equal.