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Cheerleading is an activity that uses organized routines made up of elements from dance and/or gymnastics to cheer on sports teams at games and matches, and/or as a competitive activity. A cheerleading performer is a cheerleader.
Cheerleading came about at Princeton University in the 1880s with the crowd chant, "Rah rah rah, tiger tiger tiger, sis sis sis, boom boom boom ahhhhhhh, Princeton Princeton Princeton!" as a way to encourage school spirit at football games. A few years later, Princeton graduate Thomas Peebles, introduced the idea of organized crowd chanting to the University of Minnesota in 1884. But it was not until 1898 that University of Minnesota student Johnny Campbell stood in front of the crowd, and directed them in a chant, making Campbell the very first cheerleader. Soon after that, the University of Minnesota organized a "yell leader" squad of 4 male students.
Although it is estimated that 90% of today's cheerleading participants are female, cheerleading started out as an all-male activity. Females started to participate in cheerleading in the 1920s, due to limited availability of female collegiate sports. By the 1940s, it was a largely female activity.
Cheerleading is most closely associated with American football, and to a lesser degree basketball. Sports such as soccer and wrestling rarely have cheerleaders, while sports like baseball have none at all.
In 1948, Lawrence "Herkie" Herkimer formed the National Cheerleading Association (NCA) as a way to hold cheerleading clinics. The National Cheerleading Association held its first clinic in 1949 with 52 girls in attendance. The next year, the clinic had grown to 350 cheerleaders. By the 1950s, most American high schools had formed cheerleading squads.
By the 1960s, cheerleading had grown to be a staple in American high school and collegiate sports. Organized cheerleading competitions began to crop up with the first ranking of the "Top Ten College Cheerleading Squads" and "Cheerleader All America" awards given out by the International Cheerleading Foundation (now the World Cheerleading Association or WCA) in 1967. In 1978, America was introduced to competitive cheerleading by the first broadcast of Collegiate Cheerleading Championships on CBS.
In the 1960s National Football League (NFL) teams began to organize professional cheerleading teams. It was the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders who gained the spotlight with their revealing outfits and sophisticated dance moves, which debuted in the 1972-1973 season, but were first seen widely in Super Bowl X (1976). This caused the image of cheerleaders to permanently change, with many other NFL teams emulating them.
The 1980s saw the onset of modern cheerleading with more difficult stunts and gymnastics being incorporated into routines. Cheerleading organizations started applying safety guidelines and offering courses on safety training for coaches and sponsors. In 1984, Cheer Ltd. Inc. (sic) established the National Cheer Conference (NCC) for cheer coaches to receive instruction and hands-on course work in cheerleading techniques. AACCA is the nationally recognized safety organization, conducting safety courses since 1987. A more recent organization to conduct safety courses is the NCSSE.
The spirit industry leaders were united with the unprecedented 2004 establishment of SITA, the Spirit Industry Trade Association. Founded by leaders of nine major cheerleading companies including American Championships, America's Best, AmeriCheer, Athletic Championships, Atlantic Cheer & Dance, Cheer Ltd. Inc, COA, ECA, and UPA, the industry trade association includes both cheerleading companies, affiliate companies, and safety organizations. Another trade organization, OSIP, the Organization of Spirit Industry Providers, consists of over 33 member organizations including Universal Cheerleaders Association, National Spirit Association, USASF, Fellowship of Christian Cheerleaders, Ross Athletic, CheerSPORT and others.
Today, cheerleading has grown to an estimated 4 million participants in the United States alone.
cheerleaders (orange uniforms) in a stunt for the renaming of Glory Road on the campus, November 29, 2005. The Golddiggers (pompon girls -- black and white uniforms) are to the front.
The August 2005 death of Ashley Burns, a 14 year old cheerleader, while practicing a stunt, drew attention to the risks in the development of cheerleading stunts, even though Burns actually died due to the reopening of pre-existing internal injuries. Fatalities and serious injuries are extremely rare in cheerleading. In the United States since 1991, only two deaths have been confirmed as being caused by cheerleading.
The National Federation of High Schools, Universal Cheerleaders Association, and the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Advisors joined together to develop and promote the NF Coaches Education Program. On the college level, the NCAA has required all college cheerleading coaches are AACCA safety certified by August 1, 2006.
*Common cheerleading motions are high V, low V, half-high and half-low Vs, diagonals, K's, L's, T's, broken T's, touchdowns, low touchdowns, tabletops, and punches. The motions always need to be sharp and precise so that the cheerleaders do not look sloppy.
*Toe Touch is a jump with legs straddled, and straight, toes pointed, knees up or back, and the arms in a T motion. This is the most common jump.
*Hurdler The straight leg is either forward (a front hurdler) with arms in a touchdown, or out to the side (a side hurdler) with arms in a T. The bent knee faces the crowd.
*Pike is among the most difficult of jumps. Both legs are straight out, knees locked. Arms are in a touchdown motion out in front to create a folded position in the air. This is often performed at a ninety-degree angle to the audience in order to show off the air position.
*Around the World is a jump where the performer hits a pike and then whips his or her legs quickly back around into a toe touch. This jump is regarded as difficult to accomplish, because two positions must be reached in the very short time while the jumper is in the air.
*Herkie, named for Lawrence R. Herkimer, the founder of the National Cheerleader's Association, is similar to a side-hurdler, except that instead of both arms being in a "T" motion, both arms are opposite of what the leg beneath them is doing. Example of this would be the straight arm would be on the side of the bent leg, and the bent arm is on the side of the straight leg. One other variation of this includes the bent leg is pointing straight down, instead of out like the side-hurdler. The jump is speculated to have been invented because Herkie wasn't able to do an actual side-hurdler.
*Double Nine is a jump similar to a pike except one leg and one arm are bent in to form two "nines".
*Double Hook is a jump where the legs are in the "cheer sit" position.
*A stunt involves one or more bases holding or tossing a flyer in the air. There are many types of stunts, involving varying numbers of people. Generally, the maximum number of participants in any one stunt group is limited to five (four bases and a flyer) for practical reasons - there just isn't enough space around a flyer for more than four bases to safely fit.
*Flyers are cheerleaders held or tossed in the air (sometimes called 'tops'). A flyer must have good stability, back and abdominal strength and a willingness to try new and adventurous things. The less afraid a flyer is of being in the air, the more likely it is that her stunts will stay up.
*Bases are the cheerleaders who hold and toss the flyers. They can be roughly divided into three categories: primary bases, back bases and front bases (front bases, however, are less frequently used by more advanced squads, only really coming into play in tosses and reloads). Primary bases are the main load-bearers of any stunt, taking most of the weight and doing most of the lifting or tossing. They frequently find themselves almost directly underneath their flyer and, usually, are the ones with the most control over the stunt. Back bases (sometimes called 'assists' or 'bracers') are responsible for assisting the primary base or bases by taking some of the weight of the flyer whilst lifting or lowering and helping to balance the flyer whilst steady in the air (usually by holding onto the ankle or top of the foot). They also protect the head and neck during cradles. Front bases are usually a safety precaution, used when training new flyers or bases. However, during tosses they can be employed to give extra height and thus enable the flyer to perform more tricks in the air. They can alsobe employed during reloads, a transitional stunt where the flyer is bounced back up from a cradle position to land back on her feet on her primary bases. In this case, the front base is responsible for placing the feet and ankles of the flyer back into the hands of the other bases.
*Pyramids are multiple groups of stunts, connected aerially by their flyers. This connection may be made in a variety of ways, from a simple linking of hands to having a multi-level pyramid, with the flyers already in the air acting as primary bases for another flyer or flyers on top of them.
*In competition and most collegiate level cheerleading, tumbling is a requirement. The most basic tumbling is a cartwheel or a round off. The more difficult skills are back handsprings and round off back handsprings. Other more advanced skills include: back tucks, layouts, full twisting layouts (fulls), and front tumbling, such as front handsprings, and punch fronts.
Every team has their "signature" cheers and chants. Most of the time the cheerleaders and coaches come up with these cheers/chants, although there are a few professional specialists, such as Krazy George Henderson. Cheers are often longer than chants and usually incorporate jumps, tumbling, or stunting. Chants are short and repetitive and usually involve crowd participation.
All-Star Competitive Cheerleading
In the early 1990s, cheerleading teams not associated with schools or sports leagues, whose main objective is competition, started to emerge. All-star cheerleading involves a squad of anywhere between 3-30+ females and/or males. The squad prepares year-round, but they only actually perform for up to 2 1/2 minutes in their competitions. The numbers of competitions a team participates in varies from team to team, but generally, most teams tend to participate in 6 or 7 competitions a year. During a competition, a squad covers everything from stunting to tumbling to dancing. There is custom music for the entire routine. Teams apply an 8 count system to the music so the team members know how long stunts need to be held, when they are supposed to do their tumbling, the order the pyramid is assembled, and when specific dance moves are to be performed.
All-star teams are operated out of gymnastics facilities, or cheer gyms, which are entire gyms built to facilitate the needs of competitive cheerleaders.
All-star competitive cheerleaders are placed into divisions which are grouped based upon age and ability level. Judges at the competition watch for illegal moves from the group or any of its members. Here, an illegal move is something that is not allowed in that division, due to difficulty and safety restrictions. More generally, judges look at the difficulty and execution of stunts and tumbling, synchronization, the sharpness of the motions in the dance, as well as the cheer (if applicable), and overall routine execution.
All-star cheerleading is a relatively young sport. The US All Star Federation (USASF) has emerged as the preeminent organization for all-star teams and gyms. Companies that run competitions include AmeriCheer, U.S. Spirit, Universal Cheerleading Association (UCA), National Cheerleading Association (NCA, the very first), Cheer Ltd. Inc, American Cheer Power, Cheerleaders of America (COA), World Spirit Federation (WSF), JAMfest Cheer and Dance, FCC (Fellowship of Christian Cheerleaders), CHEERSPORT, and many more.
Competitive cheerleading is a major time and financial commitment, yet it is a rapidly growing sport and industry. Experience in all-star cheerleading is also highly sought after by elite college cheerleading teams such as the University of Louisville, the University of Kentucky, the University of Houston, and Hawaii Pacific University.
In the United Kingdom, the American style of cheerleading at sports matches is seen by many as alien to British sporting culture, and some attempts to introduce it, for example in the early days of Premiership football (soccer), have been abandoned after receiving widespread derision. There are however several sports teams that use their support: these are usually rugby league teams, and include the Leeds Rhinos, the Warrington Wolves, the Bradford Bulls, the Castleford Tigers and St Helens. The teams that play in BCAFL, the UK College American Football League also follow the American tradition of having cheerleaders support them at games, as do the GB Bulldogs, the UK national American Football team.
Recently all-star competitive cheerleading has increased in popularity in the UK and several organisations such as the British Cheerleading Association hold national competitions every year. There is also a competing group, more recently formed than the BCA, called Future Cheer, which conforms to the relatively recent USASF coaching and safety regulations. Cheerleaders in Britain can range from the age of six or seven, up to university students, all of whom mix together and compete in competitions consisting of cheer, dance and stunt categories. Co-ed cheerleading is also a relativly popular form of cheerleading in the UK.
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