It wasn’t until 1923 that women were allowed to cheer for the first time, at the University of Minnesota. But what about before that? Let’s take a look.
Cheerleading origins are closely tied to American football. 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.
Campbell 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!
From there Cheerleading grew massively. It wasn’t until 1923 that women were allowed to cheer for the first time, at the University of Minnesota. During this decade, cheerleaders expanded on cheerleading adding 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 1920s, it wasn’t until the ‘1940s 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 pompon, 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 events, apparel, and service companies.
All-Star cheerleading started in the late 1980s 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.
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.”
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