The history of cheerleading has roots in ancient times, reaching back to the early Olympic Games and even the Roman Coliseum. However, cheerleading as it is practiced today is an American tradition begun in the late 1800s.
If it seems like football and cheerleading are inextricably linked, it's because they are. As the story goes, the first organized cheer ever recorded took place at an 1880s Princeton football game. The cheer was rather primitive by today's standards, but it served the purpose of getting the crowd excited and the team pumped.
That must have been a great experience, because Princeton graduate Thomas Peebles later brought the game of football with him to the University of Minnesota, and he didn't forget to include the popular cheering activities with it. Peebles himself led the crowd in what has become the traditional Minnesota cheer still heard at games today.
Despite these early efforts, it's Johnny (Jack) Campbell who gets credit as the modern father of cheerleading. On November 2, 1898, Campbell and several other young men were officially selected to lead the "yelling", as it was then called, at the last Minnesota home game of the season. For all intents and purposes, this was the first "pep squad" ever formed, and it set the pattern that would be followed for years to come.
The Advent of Women Cheerleaders
As you now know, men were the primary cheerleaders in the sport's infancy, even though women did cheer along from the stands. However, the 1920s brought a flurry of activity that would widen cheering's reach and appeal. Women were finally admitted to the University of Minnesota's cheerleading squad, and cheers began to evolve from simple crowd chants. Various gymnastic moves and acrobatics were added to standard cheers and were immediate crowd pleasers. Fans in the stands learned to follow along with hand and arm motions. Some even attempted to form clumsy pyramids of their own in imitation of what they had seen during the game. It was also around this time that the first cheerleading book was ever written, entitled Just Yells by Willis Bugbee.
The First Cheerleading Supply Company
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It wasn't until the 1930s that the ever popular pom poms made their debut. These early prototypes were made from paper and didn't hold up well at rainy games. Durable vinyl pom poms would not be in use until some 30 years later.The first cheerleading company began operations in the 1940s, courtesy of Lawrence R, Herkimer. If something about that name sounds familiar it should; Herkimer, a former gymnast himself, created the famous "Herkie" jump still seen frequently today.
Organization, Training and Growth of the Sport
Cheerleading had also become serious enough to warrant its own organization, thus the American Cheerleaders Association was founded.
From the 1950s forward, cheerleading would continue to become more organized. Cheer clinics and camps were designed to train interested young people in the art of cheering. Originally springing from schools for team support, cheerleading teams began to branch out to semi-professional organizations competing in national competitions. Professional sports teams added line ups of gorgeous professional cheerleaders to draw even more fans to the games. Cheerleading had finally reached the big time with favorites like the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders and the Laker Girls setting new trends in uniforms and cheer dances. Those trends continue to the present day.
Cheerleading has become a multi-million dollar industry that shows no signs of slowing down.
A Tradition With a Solid Future
Now you know something of the history of cheerleading, but cheerleading's future remains to be seen. One thing is certain, as long as people gather at sporting event to support their favorite teams, cheerleaders will be there to spur on the crowd.