The beginning of cheerleading is tied to that of the history of American football. In 1869, the first intercollegiate American football game was played between Princeton University and Rutgers University in New Jersey. By 1880s, Princeton had already formed an all-male pep club.
Thomas Peebles, a graduate of Princeton University, took the Princeton cheers to the University of Minnesota, where football and fight cheers were becoming very popular that time. But it was in 1898, when the University of Minnesota was on a losing streak, when a student named Johnny Campbell assembled a group of students with the purpose of energizing the team and the crowd. Campbell picked up a megaphone and rallied the team to a victory with what is being considered now as the first organized cheer.
He called on the football team: “Rah, Rah, Rah! Ski-U-Mah! Hoo-Rah! Hoo-Rah! Varsity! Varsity! Minn-e-so-tah!” Cheerleading grew from there on. The rest of the university formed groups of their own to cheer their teams to victories. But it wasn’t until the year 1923 that women became cheerleaders, the first ones being at the University of Minnesota.
During the same decade, cheerleading added various advanced skills to their set. They started doing tumbling and acrobatics in their routines. At around this time, at the University of Oregon, a cheerleader used flashcards for the first time to cheer for his team. Though women began joining cheerleading teams in the 1920s, it wasn’t until the 1940s that they joined in large numbers because many college-aged men went off to fight for the country in the World War II.
Lawrence “Herkie” Herkimer, a cheerleader at the Southern Methodist University, started the first summer cheerleading clinic in San Houston State Teacher’s College (now State University) in 1948. Here, he developed the “Herkie” jump, the spirit stick and the pom-poms–all cheerleading staples up to this day. So, you see, it was in the middle of a world war that the positivity cheerleading was known for became hugely popular.
By the year 1961, Herkie incorporated the National Cheerleaders Association (NCA). Also during this decade, cheerleading has become a staple in every high school and grade school across the country. Pee wee and youth leagues also developed.
Higher level skills were introduced in 1974 when Jeff Webb, a former general manager of NCA, founded the Universal Cheerleaders Association (UCA). By the next decade, many event companies were launched, as well as the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators. All-star cheerleading also began in the 1980s and all throughout the 90s.