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THE HISTORY OF CHEERLEADING
Reprinted from BCA's
THE HISTORY OF CHEERLEADING
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,
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
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
"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
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
1870s: The first pep club was established at Princeton
1880s: The first organised yell was recorded at Princeton
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
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 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
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
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
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!!