Before cheerleading became an integral part of professional sports as a way to help fans cheer on their team, it had its beginnings at the collegiate level. Through many decades it has evolved not only as a competitive sport in its own right, but has served as an emissary to bring attention to charitable causes and offer support in a variety of ways.
Cheerleading had its origins at the University of Minnesota. The very first cheerleader was a University of Minnesota student named Johnny Campbell. During a football game he stirred up the crowd by cheering, “Rah, Rah, Rah! Ski-u-mah, Hoo-Rah! Hoo-Rah! Varsity! Varsity! Varsity, Minn-e-so-Tah!” The date was November 2, 1898. The university later put together a cheering squad made up of six male students who continued using Campbell’s original cheer. Although cheerleaders were originally all-male squads, by 1923 females were being incorporated and eventually made up the majority of participants. Cheerleading soon began including routines such as tumbling, gymnastics, and the use of megaphones during football games.
In 1948, a former cheerleader at Southern Methodist University named, Lawrence Herkimer, formed the National Cheerleaders Association. It was created to hold cheerleading clinics, and by the 1960’s, college cheerleaders hosted workshops across the nation teaching the fundamentals of cheering to teenage girls in High School. In 1965, Fred Gastoff, invented the vinyl pom-pon which was introduced in competitions hosted by the International Cheerleading Foundation. Today it is known as the World Cheerleading Association. Organized cheerleading competitions sprouted everywhere until 1978 when CBS broadcast the first Collegiate Cheerleading Championships, bringing wider attention to the sport. Although cheerleading rarely got much attention during the 1960’s, and cheerleaders were not exactly a reason to watch football, what did begin to emerge were organized professional cheerleading teams.
Before they became the famed Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, the Dallas Cowboys had a cheer squad made up of male-female high school students called CowBelles & Beaux. During the 1970 football season, Cowboys manager, Tex Schramm, decided to completely overhaul the cheerleaders, making them an all-female squad over the age of 18, redesigning the uniforms, creating new dance style cheer routines, and forming an overall sexier look in hopes of boosting attendance. The women not only had to be attractive and have athletic abilities when they auditioned, they also needed to possess raw talent as performers. The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders made their first appearance on the sidelines during the 1972-1973 NFL seasons. Since then, they have appeared on many television shows, toured throughout the U.S. and overseas, and have made regular appearances in the USO tours to support our troops.
Modern cheerleading has changed dramatically from its original function of spurring an audience to show their support for the team. It has become a sport in itself, competing outside of sporting events as well. Cheerleaders are found in most American middle schools, high schools, and colleges with organized squads made up of students. Cheerleading scholarships are even offered by colleges that compete at cheerleading competitions.
Cheerleading squads began to emerge in the 1980’s that didn’t have an association with a school or sports league. Their main objective was solely competition. Divisions and teams were created and sponsored by many different organizations and companies. The competitions are judged based on the difficulty and execution of the routines that include jumps, stunts, tumbling, creativity, showmanship, synchronization, and overall routine performance. These all-star team competitions are broadcast to global audiences that have led to thousands of cheerleading participants from countries worldwide.
Professional cheerleading has taken cheerleaders beyond the sphere of cheering at games. It has broadened their horizons doing charity work and philanthropy, television performances, advertising, modeling, and motivational speaking. Cheerleading has come a long way.