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Highschool cheerleaders performing a heel stretch.
Cheerleading is a sport that uses organized routines that range from 1 minute to 3 minutes made from elements of tumbling, dance, jumps, cheers, and stunting to direct spectators of events to cheer on sports teams at games and matches and/or compete at cheerleading competitions. Cheerleaders draw attention to the event and encourage audience participation. The athlete involved is called a cheerleader. The National Cheerleading Association is one of the the sanctioning bodies for cheerleading in the USA.

Cheerleading originates in the United States, and remains a predominantly American activity, with an estimated 1.5 million participants in all-star cheerleading. The growing presentation of the sport to a global audience has been led by the 1997 start of broadcasts of cheerleading competition by ESPN International and the worldwide release of the 2000 film Bring it On. Due in part to this recent exposure, there are now an estimated 100,000 participants scattered around the rest of the world in countries including Australia, Canadamarker, Chinamarker, Colombiamarker, Finlandmarker, Francemarker, Japanmarker, the Netherlandsmarker, New Zealandmarker and the United Kingdommarker.


Princeton graduate Thomas Peebles introduced the idea of organized crowds cheering at football games to the University of Minnesota. However, it was not until 1898 that University of Minnesota student Johnny Campbell directed a crowd in cheering "Rah, Rah, Rah! Sku-u-mar, Hoo-Rah! Hoo-Rah! Varsity! Varsity! Varsity, Minn-e-So-Tah!”, making Campbell the very first cheerleader and November 2, 1898 the official birth date of organized cheerleading. Soon after, the University of Minnesota organized a "yell leader" squad of 6 male students, who still use Campbell's original cheer today In 1903 the first cheerleading fraternity, Gamma Sigma was founded. Cheerleading started out as an all-male activity, but females began participating in 1923, due to limited availability of female collegiate sports. At this time, gymnastics, tumbling, and megaphones were incorporated into popular cheers, and are still used today. Today it is estimated that 97% of cheerleading participants overall are female, but males still make up 50% of cheering squads at the collegiate level.

In 1948, Lawrence "Herkie" Herkimer, of Dallas, TX and a former cheerleader at Southern Methodist Universitymarker formed the National Cheerleaders Association (NCA) as a way to hold cheerleading clinics. In 1949, The NCA held its first clinic in Huntsville, TX with 52 girls in attendance. "Herkie" contributed many firsts to the sport: the founding of the Cheerleader & Danz Team cheerleading uniform supply company, inventing the herkie, (where one leg is bent towards the ground and the other is out to the side as high as it will stretch in the toe touch position) and creating the "Spirit Stick". By the 1960s, college cheerleaders began hosting workshops across the nation, teaching fundamental cheer skills to eager high-school-age girls. In 1965, Fred Gastoff invented the vinyl pom-pon and it was introduced into competitions by the International Cheerleading Foundation (now the World Cheerleading Association or WCA). Organized cheerleading competitions began to pop up with the first ranking of the "Top Ten College Cheerleading Squads" and "Cheerleader All America" awards given out by the International Cheerleading Foundation 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. The Baltimore Colts (now the Indianapolis Colts) was the first NFL team to have an organized cheerleading squad. 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. Most of the professional teams' cheerleading squads would more accurately be described as dance teams by today's standards; as they rarely, if ever, actively encourage crowd noise or perform modern cheerleading moves.

The 1980s saw the onset of modern cheerleading with more difficult stunt sequences and gymnastics being incorporated into routines. All-star teams started to pop up, and with them the creation of the United States All-Star Fereration (USASF) ESPN first broadcasted the National High School Cheerleading Competition nationwide in 1983. Cheerleading organizations such as the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Advisors (AACCA), founded in 1987, started applying universal safety standards to decrease the number of injuries and prevent dangerous stunts, pyramids and tumbling passes from being included in routines. In 2003, the National Council for Spirit Safety and Education (NCSSE) was formed to offer safety training for youth, school, all star and college coaches. The NCAA requires college cheer coaches to successfully complete a nationally recognized safety-training program. The NCSSE or AACCA certification programs are both recognized by the NCAA.

Even with its athletic and competitive development, cheerleading at the school level has retained its ties to the spirit leading traditions started back in the 1890s. Cheerleaders are seen as ambassadors for their schools, and leaders among the student body. At the college level, cheerleaders are often invited to help at university fundraisers. They have to do a lot of training because cheerleading is more than just chanting.

Today, cheerleading is most closely associated with American football and basketball. Sports such as association football (soccer), ice hockey, volleyball, baseball, and wrestling sometimes sponsor cheerleading squads. The ICC Twenty20 Cricket World Cup in South Africa in 2007 was the first international cricket event to have cheerleaders. The Florida Marlins were the first Major League Baseball team to have cheerleaders. Debuting in 2003, the "Marlin Mermaids" gained national exposure and have influenced other MLB teams to develop their own cheer/dance squads .

Types of teams in the world today


Most American middle schools, high schools, and colleges have organized cheerleading squads made up solely of students. Several colleges that compete at cheerleading competitions offer cheerleading scholarships. Some military academies use their drill team or Color guard team instead of a cheersquad at athletic events, but others have traditional cheerleading squads. Normally, the main reason for school-sponsored cheerleading is to promote school spirit and motivate the players and fans. A cheerleading team may compete outside of sporting events (local, regional, and national competitions), but their main task is to cheer for sporting events and encourage audience participation. Cheerleading is quickly becoming a year-round sport, starting with tryouts during the spring of the preceding school year, organized camp as a team, practices, attendance at various sporting events and ending with National competition season, typically from winter through spring.

The tryout process sometimes takes place over many days. The cheerleading coach usually arranges for a cheerleading clinic, during which basic materials are taught or reviewed before the final day of tryouts. This gives returning cheerleaders and new cheerleaders an equal chance of becoming familiar with the material. Skills that coaches look for include jumps, tumbling, motions, and dance ability. Tryouts are usually in the spring, so that the coach has the team chosen in time to attend summer camp as a team.

Middle school cheerleading

Middle school cheerleading evolved shortly after high school squads started. In middle school, the squads serve mostly the same functions as high school squads and follow the same rules and regulations, however the stunts are not as intense as those found in high school. The cheerleaders cheer at basketball, football, wrestling, and soccer boys' and girls' games. They also perform at pep rallies and compete against other schools from local competitions all the way to nationals. Cheerleading in middle school sometimes can be a two-season sport, fall and winter. However a lot of middle school cheer squads will go all year round like high school squads.

High school cheerleaders performing a K Pyramid

High school cheerleading

In high school, there are usually two squads per school—a varsity team and a junior varsity team. Some schools also include a freshman level of the sport in order to develop skills as the athletes mature. High school cheerleading contains aspects of school spirit as well as competition. These squads have become a part of a year-round sport, starting with tryouts in the spring, to year-round practice, to sporting events to cheer at in the fall and winter, and to cheerleading competitions. Most teams practice at least three days a week for about two hours each practice during the summer. Many teams also attend separate tumbling sessions outside of practice. During the school year, cheerleading is usually a five- to six-days-a-week sport. During competition season it often becomes seven days with practice twice a day sometimes. The school spirit aspect of cheerleading involves cheering, supporting, and "pumping up" the crowd at football games, basketball games, and even wrestling meets. With this they also make posters, perform at pep rallies, and bring school spirit to the other students. In May 2009, the National Federation of State High School Associations released the results of their first true high school participation study. They estimated that the number of high school cheerleaders from public high schools is 394,694.

Its competition aspect makes cheerleading its own sport. There is year-round practice, cheer camps, and competitions throughout the winter. There are different cheerleading organizations that put on these competitions, some of the major ones include state competitions and regional competitions. Many high schools host cheerleading competitions, bringing in IHSA judges. The regional competitions are the qualifiers for the national competitions, such as the UCA (Universal Cheerleaders Association) in Orlandomarker, Floridamarker every year. The competition aspect of cheerleading can be very enduring; styles and rules changing every year make it important and difficult to find the newest and hottest routines. Most teams have a professional choreograph their routine in order to ensure they are not breaking any rules and they will be up to par with the other teams. For a list of rules visit AACCA (American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators). All high school coaches are required to attend an IHSA rules meeting at the beginning of the season. This ensures their knowledge of rules changes and their compliance with these rules. Routines usually last around 2 minutes and 30 seconds and require cheer, dance, jumps, tumbling, and stunting portions.

Not all high school cheerleading squads compete in competitions, but all support their schools. Cheerleaders also dress in matching uniforms. They do this to look "together" and like a team when performing.

College cheerleading

Most colleges and universities have a cheerleading squad. Most squads are coed (consisting of both men and women), but all-girl college squads are growing in rapid numbers in an effort to give female cheerleaders (especially female bases) who have cheered on an all-girl high school or all-star squads an opportunity to cheer at the collegiate level without making the transition to a coed squad. Unlike high school cheerleading, college squads can perform difficult stunts like rewinds, 2 1/2 high pyramids, and flipping and twisting basket tosses. Most college squads compete at some level, and a handful of them compete nationally.

Youth league/athletic association

Many organizations that sponsor youth league football or basketball sponsor cheerleading squads as well. Pop Warner organizations are an example of this. The YMCA (Young Men's Christian Association) is also a popular sponsor for youth cheerleading leagues, as well as numerous other sports leagues. Many local communities are creating organizations to go along with their Youth Football leagues.

All-Star cheerleading

In the early 1980s, cheerleading squads not associated with a schools or sports leagues, whose main objective was competition, began to emerge. The first organization to call themselves all stars and go to competitions were the Q94 Rockers from Richmond, Virginiamarker, founded in 1982 by Hilda McDaniel. All-star teams competing prior to 1987 were place into the same divisions as teams that represented schools and sports leagues. In 1986 National Cheerleaders Association (NCA) decided to address this situation by creating a separate division for these teams lacking a sponsoring school or athletic association, calling it the 'All-Star Division' and debuting it at their 1987 competitions. As the popularity of these types of teams grew, more and more of them were formed, attending competitions sponsored by many different types of organizations and companies, all using their own set of rules, regulations and divisions. This situation became one of the chief concerns of gym owners. These inconsistencies caused coaches to keep their routines in a constant state of flux, detracting from time that should be utilized to develop skills and provide personal attention to their athletes. More importantly, because the various companies were constantly vying for the competitive edge, safety standards had becoming more and more lax. In some cases, unqualified coaches and inexperienced squads are attempting dangerous stunts as a result of these “expanded” sets of rules.

A cheerleading squad performing toe-touches during a routine
The USASF was formed in 2003 by these various competition companies to act as the national governing body for all star cheerleading and to create a standard set of rules and judging standards to be followed by all competitions sanctioned by the Federation and ultimately leading to the Cheerleading Worlds. The USASF hosted the first Cheerleading Worlds on Saturday, April 24, 2004. At the same time, cheerleading coaches from all over the country organize themselves for the same rule making purpose, calling themselves the National All Star Cheerleading Coaches Congress (NACCC). In 2005, the NACCC was absorbed by the USASF to become their rule making body. By late 2006, the USASF was ready to expand its reach even further, by facilitating the creation of the International All-Star Federation (IASF), the first international governing body for the sport of cheerleading.
An All Star team during a competition
Currently all-star cheerleading as sanctioned by the USASF involves a squad of 6-36 females and/or males. The squad prepares year-round for many different competition appearances, but they only actually perform for up to 2½ minutes during their routines. The numbers of competitions a team participates in varies from team to team, but generally, most teams tend to participate in eight-twelve competitions a year. These competitions include locals, which are normally taken place in school gymnasiums, nationals, hosted in big venues all around the U.S. with national champions, and the Cheerleading Worlds, taken place at Disney World in Orlando, Florida. During a competition routine, a squad performs carefully choreographed stunting, tumbling, jumping and dancing to their own custom music. Teams create their routines to an eight-count system and apply that to the music so the team members execute the elements with precise timing and synchronization.

Judges at the competition watch for illegal moves from the group or any individual member. 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 jumps, stunts and tumbling, synchronization, creativity, the sharpness of the motions, showmanship, and overall routine execution.

All-star cheerleaders are placed into divisions, which are grouped based upon age, size of the team, gender of participants, and ability level. The age levels vary from under 4 year of age to 18 years and over. The divisions used by the USASF/IASF are currently Tiny, Mini, Youth, Junior, Junior International, Junior Coed, Senior, Senior Coed, and Open international.

If a team places high enough at selected USASF/IASF sanctioned national competitions, they could be included in the Cheerleading Worlds and compete against teams from all over the world, as well as receive money for placing. Each team receives a bid from another cheerleading company and goes in the name of that company. You must get a bid from a company in order to compete at the Cheerleading Worlds. For example, a team could get a bid from Cheersport, and they compete as a team representing that company. Cheerleading companies give out three types of bids to go to Cheerleading Worlds, Full Paid Bid, Parital Bid, or an Un-paid bid. The Cheerleading Worlds are only for teams that are level 5 and up.

Professional cheerleading

There are only a few professional cheerleading leagues around the world. In America and Canada, professional cheerleading squads are also called dance teams. In addition to cheering at games and competing, professional cheerleaders also, as teams, do a lot of philanthropy and charity work, modeling, motivational speaking, television performances, and advertising. Although professional cheerleading leagues exist in multiple countries, there are no Olympic Teams.

Professional Cheerleaders cheer for sports such as football, basketball, rugby league, soccer, baseball, wrestling, or hockey. Some professional leagues include NBA Cheerleading League, NFL Cheerleading League, and CFL Cheerleading League.

Famous former cheerleaders

Many prominent people in the entertainment, business, and political fields have been cheerleaders. To see the list, go to List of cheerleaders.

Cheerleading in popular culture

Movies and television

Also see List of cheerleaders in fiction

The revamped and provocative Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders of the 1970s—and the many imitators that followed—firmly established the cheerleader as an American icon of wholesome sex appeal. In response, a new subgenre of exploitation films suddenly sprang up with titles such as The Cheerleaders (1972), The Swinging Cheerleaders (1974), Revenge of the Cheerleaders (1975), The Pom Pom Girls (1976), Satan's Cheerleaders (1977), and Cheerleaders's Wild Weekend (1979). In addition to R-rated sex comedies and horror films, cheerleaders became a staple of the adult film industry, starting with Debbie Does Dallas (1978) and its four sequels.

On television, the made-for-TV movie The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders (which aired January 14, 1979) starring Jane Seymour was a highly-rated success, spawning the 1980 sequel The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders II.

The Dallas squad was in high demand during the late '70s with frequent appearances on network specials, awards shows, variety programs, commercials, the game show Family Feud and sitcoms such as The Love Boat. The sci-fi sitcom Mork & Mindy also based a 1979 episode around the Denver Broncos cheerleaders with Mork (Robin Williams) trying out for the squad.

Cheerleading's increasing popularity in recent decades has made it a prominent feature in high-school themed movies and television shows. The 2000 film Bring It On, about a San Diegomarker high school cheerleading squad called "The Toros", starred real-life former cheerleader Kirsten Dunst. Bring It On was a surprise hit and earned nearly $70 million domestically. It spawned four direct-to-video sequels Bring It On Again in 2003, Bring It On: All or Nothing in 2006 and Bring It On: In It to Win It in 2007. Bring It On was followed in 2001 by another teen cheerleading comedy, Sugar & Spice. In 1993, The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom was an acclaimed TV movie which told the true story of Wanda Holloway, the Texas mother whose obsession with her daughter's cheerleading career made headline news.

In 2006, Hayden Panettiere, star of Bring It On: All or Nothing, took another cheerleading role as Claire Bennet, the cheerleader with an accelerated healing factor on NBC's hit sci-fi TV series Heroes, launching cheerleading back into the limelight of pop culture. Claire was the main focus of the show's first story arc, featuring the popular catchphrase, "Save the cheerleader, save the world." Her prominent, protagonist role in Heroes was supported by a strong fan-base and provided a positive image for high school cheerleading.

In 2006, Cheerleader Nation, was a reality show featured on the channel, Lifetime. Cheerleader Nation is a 60 minute television series based on the Paul Laurence Dunbar High School cheerleading team's ups and downs on the way to nationals, of which they are the three time champions. This show also explains how cheerleading is a tough sport. This show takes place in Lexington, Kentucky. The team is on a quest to win a third national championship.

In 2007, the series "Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team" was started to show the process of getting on the pro squad of the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders. Everything from initial tryouts to workout routines and the difficulties involved was shown. The series was given another year to show the process of getting the 08 Cheerleaders ready.

In 2009. Universal Pictures penned music video and film director Billie Woodruff (Barbershop, Honey) to direct the fifth film in the Bring It On series titled Bring It On: Fight to the Finish. The film will star Christina Milian and Rachelle Brook Smith and is set to be released directly to DVD and Blu-ray on September 1, 2009.

Video games

Nintendo has released a pair of video games in Japan for the Nintendo DS, Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan and its sequel Moero! Nekketsu Rhythm Damashii that star teams of male cheer squads, or Ouendan that practice a form of cheerleading. Each of the games' most difficult modes replaces the male characters with female cheer squads that dress in western cheerleading uniforms. The games task the cheer squads with assisting people in desperate need of help by cheering them on and giving them the motivation to succeed. There is also a All Star Cheerleader for the Wii in which you do routines at competitions with the Wiimote & Nunchuck. This is also available for Nintendo DS

Sport debate and stereotypes

Because cheerleaders started out as merely a tool for crowd arousal and are used by professional sports teams as institutionalized "eye candy", the stereotype sticks that cheerleaders are no more than skinny girls in short skirts, standing on the sideline, shouting phrases like "Go Team, Go!" Another common stereotype surrounding cheerleaders is that they are popular, attractive, and often quite rude. This stereotype is enforced by television shows, movies, and other media that portray cheerleaders as ditsy blondes, typically popular, and rude to others. With the addition of adult coaching added to school squads, the image that cheerleading is just a popularity contest is beginning to fade. With the addition of All-Star Cheerleading, cheerleaders are ready to drop old stereotypes, and take on the title of athletes. Many schools look for children who also have the skills that come from participating on All-Star teams. There has been debate on whether or not cheerleading truly is a sport. Supporters consider cheerleading, as a whole, a sport, citing the heavy use of athletic talents while critics do not see it as deserving of that status since sport implies a competition among squads and not all squads compete along with subjectivity of competitions. One common argument is that cheerleading, while difficult and requiring of athletic skill, should not be considered a sport any more than dancing. All-Star brings a whole new set of rules to the table, incorporating a high level of gymnastics and stunting, and very competitive routines. During the 2008 Cheerleading Worlds, the USASF launched it's "Be an All-Star" campaign and public service announcement, promoting the positive qualities of All-Star cheerleading and the concept of cheerleading as a sport.

On January 27, 2009, in a lawsuit involving an accidental injury sustained during a cheerleading practice, the Wisconsin Supreme Courtmarker ruled that cheerleading is a full-contact sport in that state.

Dangers of cheerleading

The risk of cheerleading was highlighted when Kristi Yamaoka, a cheerleader for Southern Illinois University, suffered from a fractured vertebra after she hit her head after falling from a human pyramid. She also suffered from a concussion, and a bruised lung. The fall occurred when Yamaoka lost her balance during a basketball game between Southern Illinois University and Bradley Universitymarker at the Savvis Centermarker in St. Louismarker on March 5, 2006. The fall gained "national attention", because Yamaoka continued to perform from a stretcher as she was moved away from the game. Yamaoka has since made a full recovery.

The accident caused the Missouri Valley Conference to ban its member schools from allowing cheerleaders to be "launched or tossed and from taking part in formations higher than two levels" for one week during a women's basketball conference tournament, and also resulted in a recommendation by the NCAA that conferences and tournaments do not allow pyramids two and one half levels high or higher, and a stunt known as basket tosses, during the rest of the men's and women's basketball season. On July 11, 2006, the bans were made permanent by the AACCA rules committee:
The committee unanimously voted for sweeping revisions to cheerleading safety rules, the most major of which restricts specific upper-level skills during basketball games. Basket tosses, 2½ high pyramids, one-arm stunts, stunts that involve twisting or flipping, and twisting tumbling skills may only be performed during halftime and post-game on a matted surface and are prohibited during game play or time-outs.

In October, 2007, seventeen year-old Patty Phommanyvong became a comatose quadriplegic as the result of a fall to the ground at Los Angeles' John Marshall High School. Eighteen year-old Jessica Smith suffered a fractured back and neck after hitting the ground during practice at Sacramento City College in California. 20 year-old Lauren Chang died in April 2008 from being kicked in the chest at a cheerleading competition in Worcester, Massachusetts. There was also the 2005 case of Ashley Burns who, at 14 years old, ruptured her spleen. This occurred when she landed stomach down while practicing an airborne spin with her high school cheerleading squad

Out of the nation's 2.9 million female high school athletes, only 3% are cheerleaders, yet cheerleading accounts for 65% of all catastrophic injuries in girls' high school athletics. Since the NCAA has yet to recognize cheerleading as an official college sport, there are no solid numbers on college cheerleading, yet when it comes to injuries, 67% of female athlete injuries at the college level are due to cheerleading mishaps.

Cheerleading is now considered one of the most dangerous school activities. The main source of injuries comes from stunting, also known as pyramids. These stunts are performed at games and pep rallies, as well as competitions. Sometimes competition routines are focused solely around the use of difficult and risky stunts. These stunts usually include a flyer (the girl on top), along with one or two bases (the girls or boys on the bottom) and, one or two spotters in the front and back on the bottom. The most common cheerleading related injuries are: sprained ankles, sprained wrists, back injuries, head injuries (sometimes concussions), broken arms, elbow injuries, knee injuries, and broken collarbones.

The Pediatrics journal reported that the number of cheerleaders suffering from broken bones, concussions, and sprains has increased by over 100 percent between the years of 1990 and 2002. In 2001 there were 25,000 hospital visits reported for cheerleading injuries dealing with the shoulder, ankle, head, and neck.
Meanwhile, in the USA, cheerleading accounted for 65.1% of all major sports injuries to high school females, and to 66.7% of major sports injuries to college students from 1982 to 2007, with 22,900 minors being admitted to hospital with cheerleading-related injuries in 2002.

In October 2009, the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Advisors (AACCA) released a study that analysed the data from Emergency Room visits of all high school athletes. The results showed that contrary to many perceptions, cheerleading injuries are in line with other female sports [686]. Cheerleading has been added to the list of sports being studied by Dr. Dawn Comstock of Ohio State University through the high school Injury Surveillance System.

See also


External links

Irish Cheer Sport Association

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