Cheerleading in the US dates to the 1880s when it quickly took as a popular supporting act to other sports like football.
Cheerleaders typically danced and performed on the sidelines as a means to garner crowd morale and encourage team spirit, often leading with chants and cheers, hence, their namesake. Even many presidents were cheerleaders during their colleges times.
First, we must pay our respects to the first cheerleader in history: Johnny Campbell, a medical student at the University of Minnesota who gathered a group of male students to lead the crowd in chants during football games in 1898. There had been nothing like it before this, and Campbell’s bold act, spurring competing sports teams to begin this tradition of cheering, had birthed sideline cheerleading.
The second most notable cheerleader we must pay tribute to is Lawrence “Herkie” Herkimer (October 14, 1925 – July 1, 2015), who invented the Herkie, a basic and essential jump skill now employed in competitive cheerleading routines.
Herkimer was a cheerleader at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. After World War II, Herkimer set about standardizing the sport. Thus, creating modern cheerleading as we know it. Herkimer was christened the ‘grandfather of modern cheerleading’ for his contributions to the cheerleading world. Among his many legacies were his cheer camps designed to elevate performance skills and improve on cheerleaders’ abilities, through which he taught partner stunts and crowd leadership techniques, forming the foundation of cheerleading. These training camps eventually sparked the creation of the National Cheerleaders Association (NCA).
Only in the 1920s and 1930s did cheerleading diversify when universities changed their restrictive policies around gender, which opened up the door for women to join cheer teams.
Fast-forward to the 21st Century, and one of the most notorious cheerleaders in the world is Gabi Butler, who made her debut on the TV series the Secret Diary of an American Cheerleader in 2012 and appeared in the series Cheerleaders in 2013, which featured her Californian All-Star team Cali SMOED, a team that won numerous championship titles.
Butler was also famous among young cheerleaders for her stretching videos on Youtube, which she filmed at home, encouraging others to train hard, push themselves and dedicate themselves to becoming more flexible for the betterment of their cheerleading careers. Butler also appeared in both seasons of the Netflix docuseries Cheer, centering on rival cheer teams from Navarro Community College and Trinity Valley Community College, with Butler cheering on the former. Currently, Gabi Butler has 2.1 million followers on Instagram.
Maddie Gardner is an American news reporter, internationally recognized as an All-Stars cheerleader on the Senior Elite team. Gardner was America’s first “cheerlebrity”, gaining a following from her elite stunting ability and performance energy. She cemented her name in cheer history at the 2010 World Championships by performing the ball-up 360 tick-tock, a stunt that no one else at the time could do. Gardner became the first all-star cheerleader to sign with a sports agent in LA.
Photo: Maddie Gardner's Twitter
George W. Bush
George W. Bush was the head cheerleader for Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, during his senior year of high school in the 1960s. After graduating from high school, Bush went to Yale University for four years, where he was also a cheerleader. President Bush was the 43rd US president and served from 2001 to 2009.
Dwight D. Eisenhower
President Eisenhower was a cheerleader for West Point Academy. Before he became the 34th president of the United States, President Eisenhower was also a huge sports fanatic while in school and participated in many sports. After suffering from a knee injury in football, President Eisenhower became a cheerleader for the team.
President Reagan attended Eureka College, where he studied sociology and economics. Before he became the 40th President of the United States, Ronald Reagan played football and was a cheerleader at Eureka College
Franklin D. Roosevelt
President Franklin Roosevelt was a cheerleader for Harvard College from 1900 to 1903. He later attended Columbia Law School and became the 32nd president and was in office from 1933 to 1945.
In sum, cheerleading has a complex and interesting history, with many notable names in its story. These are just a few big names in cheer who have made a mark in the cheer world. These days, cheerleaders gather a massive following on social media as all athletes do, in order to snag deals with affiliated companies and promote brand names.