When men grantedsuffrage to women it was a time when all football cheerleaders were men. Theywore sweaters and white flannels, carried megaphones and used fine stentorianvoices to exhort the crowds. The crowds responded in rhythmic male choruses of"rah!" and "fight!" There were in those days neitherpublic-address systems nor girl cheerleaders nor prancing majorettes. Afootball field was not yet the setting for a TV Spectacular with routines by aJackie Gleason chorus. Women went to the games only to wear yellowchrysanthemums and attend fraternity dances afterward. Very likely they werebored by everything else. But now the times have changed, and maiden-aunt typeswho would not know a long cheer from a short beer, much less recognize apitchout, are enthralled each football weekend by cheers and half-time showsboth in rock-and-roll rhythm and with star billing for a line of girls doing afast and leggy cancan. Quite a few men seem to like this too.
Lest anyonethink that the college directors of such performances have thought to sex upthe gridiron, one sincere director has observed: "They're the sort of girlan older man in the stands would be proud to have as a daughter." And asone grandstand father has observed: "Gawd, they're terrific. And nicelegs—all of them."
Cheerleading hadits primitive beginning in 1898, an inspiration of the moment in the life of aMinnesota student named Johnny Campbell who hopped out of his grandstand seatand, in a frenzy of euphoria, capered before the student body with shouts of"Rah, rah, rah, Minnesota!" Thus Johnny Campbell became our firstcheerleader. Or so says Lawrence Herkimer of Dallas, who is founder of the .National Cheerleaders Association and very likely the only man who earns aliving solely by teaching the art of cheerleading. He teaches some 16,000cheerleader fledglings a year, had 1,600 students at his last clinic and counts4,000 members in his association. The little seed sown by Johnny Campbell hasgrown and nourished into something he did not contemplate.
Many ofHerkimer's pupils are girls. Girls in coed colleges almost everywhere havebecome cheerleaders of equal status with men. They mark modern football as theFloradora sextette marked an era on the stage. There is a similarity in this.Girls are responsible for the chorus-dance innovation which has swept thestadiums of the country in recent years, introducing bigger, more elaboratepresentations every fall. Mississippi Southern now has 30 Dixie Darlings inscanty outfits of black and gold. At Oregon City there are the 17 FamousDancing Majorettes, who wear dazzling halter-necked costumes of sequin-trimmedred velvet, white boots and very brief flared skirts. They are backed by adrill unit of 49 girls (The Forty-Niners), so popular that they were draftedfor half-time duty at the Oregon State-Stanford game this fall. TheForty-Niners' number began with the chorus garbed in breakaway Indian (forStanford) costumes. At the University of Washington the coeds ride around in apurple and gold '56 Dodge rally car, looking pretty and swaying pompons likemad. The cancan is performed at Oregon State.
There are stillsome coed schools where cheerleading is restricted to men—Michigan andWisconsin, for example—and this year the University of Tennessee in Knoxville,which admitted coeds in 1794, dropped its girl cheerleaders. There is, however,no dangerous trend away from girls. On the contrary, Michigan State acceptedwomen cheerleaders for the first time last year and the University ofCalifornia turned to pompon girls in 1953. Girls have penetrated thecheerleading department in conservative New England coed schools. At BostonUniversity there is a mixed group of cheerleaders—five men and five women—aswell as a 120-piece band featuring five majorettes and 100 pompon girls.Massachusetts State has 10 majorettes dressed as Indians in tight-fittingbuckskins and feather headpieces.
There is ageneral agreement among critics of the cheerleading art that, while the girlsdo wonderfully well at baton twirling, pompon waving and in high-stepping dancenumbers, they lack the commanding presence of men when it comes to leadingcheers. A male student looking at a girl cheerleader will open his mouth, to besure, but may do so soundlessly. Nor are girls capable of such acrobatic stuntsas are performed at Georgia Tech and Michigan, both of which have finegymnastic teams and recruit cheerleaders there from. Or at Army, where therigid bodies of cheerleaders are passed down, hand over hand, from top tobottom of the cheering section. Or at the new U.S. Air Force Academy, wherecadets do somersaults from trampolets (similar to springboards).
Nothing walkslike a girl, and so they do fine in the half-time drilling department, which isentertainment of spectators as distinguished from cheerleading, which is a callto arms. For one thing their voices, even when aided by loudspeakers, lack thequality of command. Their gestures are too pretty. They can't even lookfierce.
Nor have girlsshown much inventiveness in cheerleading. All the essential innovations havebeen by men. Linsley Bothwell introduced the animated card stunt at OregonState in 1924. His 500-man rooting section flipped cards at his signal to showa beaver (the OSC mascot) smashing a huge lemon yellow "O" (symbolizingthe University of Oregon) with his tail. The first college to use cards wasCalifornia, in 1908, but these were a succession of still portraits, notanimated. The first flip stunt was at California too, in 1920, when rootersflipped cards to show a small gold "C" against a blue background. Oneach of two additional flips the "C" grew larger.
Harvard, a man'sschool, claims the oldest college cheer in the country, its "regularcheer," which consists of three "Harvards" long drawn out, followedby seven "rahs" and ending with a "fight, team, fight." TheHarvard band provides most of the half-time entertainment and has presentedsuch routines as a huge champagne bottle tipped and its contents poured into acocktail glass, from which bubbles rose and broke to spell out"Hic!"
Yale has,however, the most classic cheer, its famous Brek-ek-ek-ex-koax koax, from thechorus of Aristophanes' The Frogs. It goes back to 1884 on a night when membersof The 13 Club, an eating group of the class of '86, devised it to serenadetheir Greek professor, Frank Bigelow Tarbell, beneath his study window.
The newestcollege cheer appears to be "The Supersonic," turned loose a few weeksago at The College of the Pacific. The cheering section stands, mouths open andhands waving but voiceless. It then sits, waits a few seconds and breaks outwith a loud "Va, va booooom!" This is to indicate that the cheeringsection has cracked the sound barrier. The most indigenous cheer, veryprobably, is that of the University of Arkansas, whose team is called TheRazorbacks. The yell is the time-honored call of the hog farmer("Soooo———eeee, pig!") repeated twice and followed by a "fight,fight, fight!"
Army signals atouchdown by firing a field piece. Navy releases a weather balloon.Cheerleaders at Miami and Maryland have more strenuous routines. At Miami theyrun around the stadium bearing hurricane flags. Last year, when Miami beatFordham 75-7, this required a dozen trips. "You can," says a Miamicheerleader, "get pooped that way."
At Maryland the12 girl cheerleaders get on their knees and salaam the team in unison once forevery point in the Maryland total at that moment. When the score is runninghigh a male cheerleader appeals to the crowd to let the girls do their countingby twos or even fives. Once, when the score was at 60 points, the standsdemanded a one-by-one count.
This sort ofthing may spread.