To many, cheerleaders are a quaint anachronism who represent a wholesomeness rarely found in America outside the 1950s or Pleasantville. But to others, cheerleading is all business and a serious sport. Serious in the way that hockey, soccer, and Kung Fu are serious. If you've ever surfed across the ESPN coverage of national cheerleading competitions, you know this is true. At the sport's highest level, cheerleading can involve huge guys hurling "flyers" around like they're Kerri Strug on amphetamines, and it's very impressive stuff. For those of you looking to break into this world where gymnastics meets dance, you've come to the right place.

One note before we continue: there are many ways for you to show school spirit. Glee club, pep rally coordination, drill team, song leading, yell leading, band, flag twirling, and body painting are all ways to publicly display your love of your school. This SYW, however, will focus only on traditional cheerleading, because almost every school has a cheerleading squad, while relatively few have competitive body-painting teams.


Contrary to popular lore, cheerleading is not a product of the deep South. Even though the most famous cheerleading crew of all time belongs to the Dallas Cowboys, and the sport's perennial national high school champions are from Kentucky, cheerleading has purebred New England roots. No, they didn't wave pom-poms on the Mayflower (Goooooo Plymouth! Rock, rock, rock!), but they were full o' pep at Princeton University in the Nineteenth Century. Way back in the 1870s, Princeton organized the first pep club, we presume to celebrate their tremendous wealth. And in the 1880s, the first organized yell was recorded at Princeton:

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

Okay, so it's not Robert Frost, but it was the first time anyone organized a crowd to cheer at a college football game.

But of course, Princeton couldn't dominate this, or any other sport, for very long. In 1884, a Princeton graduate by the name of Thomas Peebles exported the yell and the sport of football to the University of Minnesota. It was in the cold Midwest that crowds first took a keen interest in hopping around and shouting - no doubt to survive the chill and pathetic athletics - and in 1898, Johnny Campbell made cheerleading what it is today. As an undergrad at Minnesota, Campbell directed the crowd in the still-used cheer:

Rah, Rah, Rah!
Sku-u-mah, Hoo-rah, Hoo-rah!
Varsity, Varsity!

From there, cheerleading took off.

Minnesota again pioneered innovations in the sport in the 1920s, when women first became active cheerleaders - prior to that time, boys had all the fun. In fact, some of our most famous male cheerleaders have included such studs as Dwight D. Eisenhower and Jimmy Stewart. But let's not kid ourselves . . . Charlie's Angel Cheryl Ladd and Miss America Phyllis George have also led their fair share of cheers.

It was not until the middle of the Twentieth Century that pom-poms were developed as a vital prop. Cheerleaders incorporated tumbling and gymnastics into their routines around the same time. The sport reached the big time in 1978, when CBS first televised the National Collegiate Cheerleading Championships, and by that time, universities began offering scholarships, college credit, and four-year letter programs in the sport. Today, cheerleading pervades all American athletics, from friendly football to professional athletics.