Cheerleading Stunts History

Cheerleading began with a chant; a big voice intent on creating team spirit. Cheer stunts were added to entertain and amuse. The sport of cheer took on a life its own. Tumbling, jumping, flipping, and twisting livened routines that last anywhere from one to three minutes. When were stunts added and how did they affect the sport of cheer?

Cheerleading is a synchronized team activity using calculated routines and chants set to rhythm and music. Its participants are called cheerleaders. Originating in the U.S., and still predominantly an American sport, cheerleading has spread throughout Europe, China, Japan, and other parts of the world. The U.S. alone boasts 1.5 million participants in all-star cheerleading. There are an estimated 100,000 cheerleaders overseas.

A Brief History of Cheerleading

Three men are noted for making cheerleading what it is today: Princeton graduate Thomas Peebles, Johnny Cambell of the University of Minnesota, and former cheerleader Lawrence "Herkie" Herkimer of Dallas Texas.

The lively Princeton graduate is considered the forerunner to cheerleading. To his alma mater, Peebles introduced the idea of chanting at football games in order to raise school spirit. And although he brought that idea to the University of Minnesota, it was Cambell who raised his dominant voice before crowds of football spectators at the University of Minnesota with his famous: "Rah rah rah! Ski-u-mah, hoo-rah, hoo-rah! Varsity, varsity varsity! Minn-e-so-tah!" Cambell became the first official "cheer leader" on November 2, 1898. And so began cheerleading. A small group of six energetic men formed the first "yell leader" squad, soon followed by a newly formed cheer fraternity, "Gamma Sigma", to carry on the tradition.

Stunts were Added

Cheer wouldn't be what it is today if it weren't for the showy moves that keep one eye on the cheerleaders and the other on the team they're rooting for. In the early 1920s women began to dominate cheerleading because sports held few positions for female athletes, and the men were being drafted off to war. The women were limber and light, so to the chant and megaphone gymnastics stunts were added.

In 1948 along came another male force in cheer history. Lawrence Herkimer created cheer camps and clinics for developing skills, along with widely-used stunts, such as the legendary "Herkie" and the "spirit kick".

In the 1960s the National Football League began to organize professional cheerleading teams. It was a time of developing and adding sophisticated dance moves to cheer, made famous by the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. Cheer took on a new life, and appeal. More challenging and entertaining stunt routines were invented in the 1970s. The 1980s brought us our first glimpses of modern cheerleading, with the founding of the United States All Star Federation (USASF). So popular, cheerleading became a featured event on ESPN, broadcasting nation-wide the first National High School Cheerleading Competition in 1983.

The Dangers of Cheer

With the evolution of cheerleading and more sophisticated competition came the pressure to perform more difficult stunts. Stunts became showier, more entertaining, and more dangerous. Reports indicate that between 1990 and 2002, the number of cheerleaders injured have risen more than 100 percent. Statistics also show that cheerleading accounts for an estimated 65 percent of catastrophic injuries to high school female athletes, and an estimated 67 percent to college female cheerleaders. In the early 2000s, stunting such as the pyramid was to blame for the majority of cheerleading mishaps. The most common injuries caused by stunting are sprained ankles and wrists, back, head, elbow and knee injuries, broken arms, noses, and collarbones. In the last ten years, cheerleading has been considered one of the most dangerous school activities although, in 2009, the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Advisors (AACCA) released a study based on emergency room data asserting that cheerleading is no more dangerous than other female activities.

Stunts Became Regulated

Sweeping revisions were made to cheer safety rules that involve pyramids, tossing, twisting, and flipping during stunts. Before the revisions cheerleaders were getting hurt from falling of pyramids and other dangerous routines. One historic example was cheerleader Kristi Yamaoka of Southern Illinois University who fell off a human pyramid and suffered a fractured vertebrae, bruised lung, and concussion when she hit her head. So the Missouri Valley Conference banned cheerleaders from being launched or tossed, and from making formations higher than two levels during the women's basketball tournament, rulings ultimately supported by the NCAA, and made permanent by the AACCA rules committee.

Cheerleading Stunts Tomorrow

Cheerleading wouldn't be the same without all the exciting and entertaining stunts that were added by the spirited cheerleaders of yesteryear, but then regulated for safety. How far will stunts go to keep the audience at the edge of their seats without being considered too dangerous? The future will tell. So long as there are judges, a trophy at stake, and better teams to be reckoned with, there will always be an edge to a sport that keeps us at the edge of our seats.

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