Cheerleading History

Cheerleading is an organized sports activity involving short routines that combine dance, gymnastics, and stunt elements to cheer on teams, most commonly football. Performers of these one to three-minute routines are called "cheerleaders". Cheerleading originated in Britain and spread to the United States where it remains most common, but has also become popular in other parts of the world, such as Europe, Central America, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and Asia.

Though founded on the notion that cheering before spectators in the stands would boost school spirit and thereby improve team performance, cheerleading has become an All-Star sport of its own. Cheer teams enter competitions every year, vying for large prizes and trophies. Cheer teams can be found in middle and high schools, colleges, youth leagues, and athletic associations. There is professional and All-Star cheerleading. There are an estimated 3.5 million cheerleaders in the US alone, not including dance team members, gymnasts, and other affiliated participants which would raise that number to above 5 million. Cheerleaders outside the US total about 100,000.


Cheerleading dates to the 1860s, in Great Britain, and entered the US in the 1880s.

Although women currently dominate the field, cheerleading was begun by men.

Princeton University, in 1884, got the idea that crowd chanting at football games would boost school spirit so they came up with a catchy cheer.

Ray, Ray, Ray!
Tiger, Tiger, Tiger!
Sis, Sis, Sis!
Boom, Boom, Boom
Aaaaah! Princeton, Princeton, Princeton!

A decade later Princeton grad and pep club member Thomas Peebles introduced the University of Minnesota to the idea of chanting to a crowd of spectators. On November 2, 1898, U-Minnesota student Johnny Campbell led an organized cheer at a football game between Minnesota and Princeton University, so you might say he was the first actual "cheer leader". Minnesota was having a tough season that year, and it was thought that cheering the team on might improve morale and affect the team's outcome. It may not have changed their luck any, but it created a lasting trend and a sport in its own right.

Soon after, in 1903, the University of Minnesota organized the first cheer fraternity called Gamma Sigma. They likely used a megaphone to project their voices; although it wasn't until later that it became a popular accessory to cheerleading.

In the 1920s women became involved in cheerleading. And that's because there weren't many intercollegiate sports available to them at the time. The lady yellers sported ankle-length skirts and varsity sweaters. Minnesota continued to lead the sport of cheer into widespread popularity. Female cheer squads began to include gymnastics, dance and other showy stunts into routines, and in the 1930s cheers were aided by the use of paper pom-poms (the first vinyl pom-poms weren't manufactured until 1965). By the1940s women were mainly leading the cheers, and routines took on a voice their own.

In 1948 Lawrence Herkimer founded the National Cheerleaders Association (NCA) which began to hold cheer workshops. The first one was held that year, with more than 50 attendees. That number grew to 350 by the following year, and by the 1950s most high schools had a squad.

By the 1960s just about every high school and college in the country had cheerleaders. Professional cheerleading was introduced around this time under the National Football League and its leader was the Dallas Cowboys debuting during the 1972-73 season. They were first widely viewed at the 1976 Super Bowl X game, changing the face of cheerleading as a profession.

Organized cheer competitions such as, "The Top Ten College Cheerleading Squads", and "Cheerleader All America" became something intercollegiate squads aspired to. Awards were distributed by the International Cheerleading Foundation, now the World Cheerleading Association (WCA). In 1978 CBS broadcasted the first cheerleading competition of this caliber.

And then another huge door for cheer was opened. The Title IX rule was passed in 1972 allowing females to complete in sports, and competitive cheerleading took off. The rule states:

"No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance..."

Cheer uniforms sported a new look. Baggy sweaters were replaced by snazzy spandex uniforms. Routines became showier, moves more complex. Cheer squads did more than just encourage crowd participation; they were a sport all their own. Cheerleading took a giant leap forward.

The Universal Cheerleaders Association was created in 1974 to provide educational training for college and high school cheer squads. UCA summer camps were well-attended. The first stunt taught was the spectacular "liberty" mount.

Modern cheerleading as we know it today began in the 1980s with flashy dance routines and gymnastics stunts. By 1997 cheerleading was recognized as an independent sport, attracting national attention. It wasn't until 1999 that the sport of cheerleading was met with official approval. And with the onset cable sports TV, ESPN, cheerleading was on the map.

Cheerleading organizations had begun to regulate moves and emphasize safety. In 2003, a national council was formed to offer safety workshops to cheerleading squads and their coaches, and today the National Collegiate Athletic Association mandates that college cheer coaches complete official safety courses.

The sport of cheerleading has gone from one enthusiastic guy chanting to a crowd of hopeful spectators to a prestigious athletic activity showcasing the talents of both males and females alike.

Lawrence Herkimer, "Grandfather of Cheerleading"

Lawrence "Herkie" Herkimer is a legend and innovator in the field of cheerleading. He founded the National Cheerleaders Association at Southern Methodist University, holding cheerleading camps since 1948. His first camp drew 52 girls and one boy. His camps have since grown to more than twenty thousand attendees. He founded the Cheerleading Supply Company in 1953, patenting the first pompoms, or pom-pons. Herkimer chose to call them "Pom-pon" when he learned that the word "pom-pom" in other languages contained vulgar meanings. His pom-pon with the hidden handle was patented in 1971. Herkimer created the "Herkie" cheerleading jump by accident when he intended to perform a split jump. Herkimer founded a national cheerleading magazine called Megaphone while at SMU. In Herkimer's words, he's taken the world of cheerleading "from the raccoon coat and pennant to greater heights".