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Reprinted from BCA's CHEER LEADER Magazine


Published in CHEER LEADER with kind permission from the 'Official Cheerleaders Handbook' by Randy Neil and Elaine Hart,  and The World Cheerleading Association

The history of cheerleading goes as far back as the late 1880's when the first organised, recorded yell was performed on an American Campus: "Ray, Ray' Ray! TIGER, TIGER, SIS, SIS, SIS! BOOM, BOOM, BOOM! Aaaaah! PRINCETON, PRINCETON, PRINCETON!" Done in locomotive style, was the first seen and heard during a college football game.

In 1884, Thomas Peebles, a graduate of Princeton University, took that yell, and the sport of [American] Football (actually derived from Rugby), to the University of Minnesota. It was from that campus that organised cheerleading came into being.

Cheerleading, as we know it today, was initiated in 1898 by Johnny Campbell, an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota, who stood before the crowd at a football game and directed them in a famous and still used yell. "Rah, Rah, Rah! Sku-u-mar, Hoo-Rah! Hoo-Rah! Varsity! Varsity! Varsity, Minn-e-So-Tah!"

Johnny Campbell's innovation of cheerleading was documented in the following story that appeared in the November 12, 1898, edition of a Minnesota student publication "Ariel": "The following were nominated to lead the Yelling today: Jack (sic) Campbell, F.G. Kotlaba, M.J. Luby, Albert Armstrong of the Academics; Wickersham of the Laws; and Litzenverg of the Medics. These men would see to it that everybody leaves the park today breathless and voiceless, as this is the last game here, it ought to be a revelation to the people of Minnesota in regard to University enthusiasm.". And so cheerleading officially began on November 2, 1898.

In the fall of 1919, some of America's greatest universities were just then becoming "great." For some reason, in those days, greatness was whether or not your university had a big, big football stadium. A stadium could accommodate large crowds, and large crowds helped to build good football teams, and the better your football team the more attention you could attract to your school. Attention was the name of the game, and if you could attract it, then your university could build itself into an important educational institution as well as being good at sports.

It was a "do or die" situation for the University of Kansas. For years their football team the "Jayhawks" had been playing in rickety old McCook Stadium, which had seats for only 2,000 people. Very few of the "big football teams" would come and play at Kansas because the crowds were so small.

On a cold autumn afternoon, a great story of cheerleadership was about to unfold. And it took a great cheerleader to engineer what was about to be a massive job. His name was Shirley Windsor (that's right, and his squad numbered only three individuals.)

Kansas had been invited to Lincoln, Nebraska, to play the nationally ranked University of Nebraska Cornhuskers. An awesome task for any football team, and especially so for the Jayhawks because the Cornhuskers outweighed the KU team by nearly twenty pounds per man.

Head Coach Forrest Allen took his team to Nebraska and on a cold wet playing field, they played hard. In fact, they fought so well that the game's final score ended in a surprising tie 20-20. And KU might even have won the game if a touchdown in the final minute of play had not been called back by the Referee.

The Jayhawks came back to Kansas on a tide of enthusiasm that had never before happened to them. They were greeted by thousands of cheering students as their train pulled into the depot.

Realising what the situation could mean, Shirley Windsor called various influential former KU students on the phone. He was asking for money to build a big stadium. After calls to Wichita, Topeka, Kansas City.... Shirley had been turned down cold.

There was only one thing left to do.

Rushing up the steps of the KU administration building two at a time, Shirley asked to see the Chancellor of the university. He said "Sir, if you would give your permission to stop all classes for one hour tomorrow morning, I think we could have the greatest pep rally this school has ever seen."

The Chancellor gave his okay to the idea, and the next morning Shirley and his two fellow cheerleaders watched as the 4,000 students filed into Robinson Gymnasium.

"Our team has given us a great victory" explained Shirley. "Now is the time to build KU's first giant stadium so we can begin a football tradition in Kansas. But our alumni in cities around Kansas have turned us down. Will you help?"

After thirty minutes of rousing cheers and ceaseless noise, the 4,000 students pledged sixty Dollars per person of their own money (that was truly a lot in those days), and nearly a quarter of a million Dollars was raised in one short hour!

Two years later, on another cold wet afternoon, KU played Nebraska again. This time in the brand-new Memorial Stadium - 30,000 seats! And one of America's great college sports traditions was born.

Other great traditions in the art of cheerleading have developed over the years. The following highlights the major events in cheerleading history.

1870s: The first pep club was established at Princeton University.

1880s: The first organised yell was recorded at Princeton University.

1890s: Organised cheerleading was initiated at the University of Minnesota, as well as the first school "fight song".

1900s: Usage of the megaphone was becoming popular. (When the megaphone was invented is not known but it was in use on the day cheerleading began in 1898.) The first cheerleader fraternity, Gamma Sigma, was organised.

1910: The first "homecoming" was held at the University of Illinois

1920s: Women became active in cheerleading. The University of Minnesota cheerleaders began to incorporate gymnastics and tumbling into their cheers. The first flash-card cheering section was directed by Lindley Bothwell at Oregon State University.

1930s: Universities and high schools began performing pom-pon routines and using paper pompons.

1940s: The first cheerleader company was formed by Lawrence R. Herkimer of Dallas, Texas.

1950s: College cheerleaders began conducting cheerleading workshops to teach fundamental cheerleading skills.

1960s: The vinyl pompon was invented by Fred Gastoff and introduced by the International Cheerleading Foundation (now W.C.A.). The "Bruin High Step" style of pompon routine was developed by UCLA cheerleaders and the International Cheerleading Foundation.

1967: Marked the first annual ranking of the "Top Ten College Cheer Squads" and the initiation of the "Cheerleader All America" awards by the International Cheerleading Foundation.

1970s: In addition to cheering for the traditional football and basketball teams, cheerleaders began supporting all school sports, sometimes selecting several different squads to cheer for wrestling, track and swimming. The first nation-wide television broadcast of the Collegiate Cheerleading Championships on CBS-TV in the Spring of 1978, initiated by the International Cheerleading Foundation.

Cheerleading began to receive recognition as a serious athletic activity as the skills level dramatically increased in areas such as gymnastics, partner stunts, pyramids, and advanced jumps. Many high school cheerleading squads began to cheer for female sports (basketball, volleyball) in addition to male sports.

Training for cheerleading coaches was offered at summer cheerleading camps. Several colleges offered scholarships, college credits, and a four year letter programme.

1980s: National cheerleading competitions for junior and senior high school as well as collegiate squads took place across America. The I.C.F. Training Course for faculty cheerleading 'sponsors' and coaches was offered across the United States.

Cheerleaders increased their involvement in community service projects. Cheerleaders received national media recognition as one of the most important school leadership groups to promote enthusiastic, positive attitudes and school spirit within schools and the community.

Cheerleading has come a long way in ten decades. The importance of cheerleading has also come a long way and was first acknowledged by Willis Bugbee in 1927, when he wrote:

"The cheerleader, where once was merely tolerated, is now a person of real estate. His prestige is such that at many schools and colleges he must win his place in competitive examination."

And it is true today, that a person must be highly skilled and competitive in order to achieve the honoured and respected position of cheerleader. This cherished position has, throughout the years, been held by some truly famous talented people.

The list includes former US President Dwight D. Eisenhower, actors Jimmy Stewart and Kirk Douglas, actresses Meryl Streep, Raquel Welch, and Cybil Shepard, just to name a few.

Whether you are a cheerleader, a yell leader, a songleader or a spiritleader (variations on the term "cheerleader"), or whether you are on an all female, an all male, or a combination male/female squad, you are striving towards one goal. That goal is to effectively lead a crowd in support of an athletic team and to generate spirit and pride within a school or community.

Today cheerleading enjoys a reputation of being an important leadership force on practically every high school and college campus in America. All of this is because of a man in Minnesota who couldn't stand sitting in the bleachers. He had to be in front of them! Thank you Johnny Campbell!!