Believe it or not, cheerleading began as a male dominated sport. In fact, women were not allowed to participate until around the 1920s.
Cheerleading originated with men chanting in the crowd at football games, which eventually led to organized chants on the track to pump up the crowd. The first organized cheer was led by Johnny Campbell, a University of Minnesota medical student. He gathered a group to rally the crowd with the chant “Rah, Rah, Rah! Ski-U-Mah! Hoo-Rah! Hoo-Rah! Varsity! Varsity! Minn-e-so-tah!” The founders of cheerleading were male.
After more and more joined in and squads were forming, many men were dropping from squads when they were drafted into WWII. Women stepped up to the plate (or megaphone, rather) when the males went off to war.
Of course, when they returned, the men wanted their spots on the squad back. They worked to kick off the female cheerleaders, some even claiming that the activity was too masculine and full of violent language. They were unsuccessful—the women had taken to cheerleading.
Eventually, around the 1940s, females were pouring into cheerleading. They began dominating around the 1960s, where it went from strong manly chants and megaphones to pom-poms and skirts. Because of the overwhelming amount of female dominance, cheerleading was now seen as a feminine activity. Men no longer wanted to be involved, and this feminine stigma seemed to stick with cheerleading ever-after. What would have happened if men and women had decided to join forces that early on? Cheerleading would have evolved so much differently. Would there be less athletes going towards Football if cheerleading had continued to be male-dominated?
Who knows, maybe we would be watching the annual Super Bowl cheerleading competition.
Even today, when cheerleading involves so much more than waving pom-poms and high-pitched cheers, sadly it is still seen that way by many. Minds continue to be changed every day about modern day cheerleading and the amount of athletic ability and practice time poured into it, but the stigma of female dominance and frills is still affecting the sport and the recruit of male cheerleaders. It’s as if the tumble track and coordinated lifts are completely overshadowed by that slight glimmer of a pom-pom. The horror!
Interestingly enough, in a society that is currently adapting to acceptance in so many different areas, cheerleading seems to be left in the dust. Males are still reluctant to sign up, and in turn are shying away from a sport that could so well bring out a large amount of athletic talent. Strong lifts and tumbles are so unique and rarely found in any other kind of men’s sports. It is obvious that the frilly outfits of the ‘60s are still very much prominent in the minds of men and women alike. How ironic—what once was the battle of the sexes is now a struggle to combine them. Bring the men back!
The presence of males on squads can do so much to improve routines and teams as a whole, but because of society and existing stigmas, the potential of males on cheer teams, especially on high school squads, remains untapped.
Will cheerleading ever have another intense transformation? Let us know your thoughts!