The Student Newspaper of Jackson-Reed High School

The Beacon

The Student Newspaper of Jackson-Reed High School

The Beacon

The Student Newspaper of Jackson-Reed High School

The Beacon

Please help us cover our annual operations cost!

A history of cheerleading

Have you ever seen one of the Bring It On movies and wondered how the act of cheering at a game became a competitive sport? Because same. Cheerleading used to look completely different, down to the predominant gender that participated in it.

Of course, the act of cheering for others has always existed, but the version of the sport as we know it today has a history of around 150 years. The first known cheer in the US came from a Princeton football game in the 1860s, and from there, it spread across US college campuses. A student at the University of Minnesota led a crowd in the first organized cheer activity on November 2, 1898, a date now celebrated annually as the birth of cheerleading. 

This role of leading cheers for the crowds during football games was reserved for men, who gained the title “yell leaders”. This spirited job became so popular that by the end of the 19th century, “yell leading” was a common extracurricular activity for boys in both high school and college. This activity was eventually referred to as “cheerleading”, and it was associated with traits like discipline, sportsmanship, and leadership.

At the turn of the 20th century, institutions began allowing women to participate in the sport of cheering as well, but the sport remained predominantly male. That was until the start of World War II, when many young men were drafted to the US army. This mass absence of men left holes in various jobs for women to fill, such as nursing, truck driving, piloting, and, inevitably, cheerleading. Even after the men returned, women were not willing to give up their new role, shaping the sport into what we know it as today: female dominated.

 By the 60s and 70s, cheerleading was extremely feminized, now with more of a focus on attractiveness and sex appeal. The sport ultimately faced a decline in popularity in the late 70s with the rise of second wave feminism, a movement that emphasized the rethinking of traditional gender roles. The passing of federal law Title IX also played a large role in the stray away from cheerleading, as it prohibited discrimination based on sex in school funded sports. Now, women were guaranteed access to all school-sanctioned sports, naturally leading many to leave cheer for other activities. 

Cheerleading quickly experienced a revival, however, with its adoption of more athletic elements. No longer was it a sport contained to leading cheers and dances from the sidelines, but now an entity with its own competitions and training camps. Tumbling routines, complex pyramids, and stunts were introduced and utilized both at competitions and on sidelines. The reinvention of the sport appealed to many girls and women looking to pursue an athletic activity, as well as regaining participation from collegiate men. The first televised college level cheer championship occurred in 1978, and since then, cheerleading has made its way into Hollywood with movies and reality TV shows depicting it in all its glory. Here we have the sport as we know it today: short skirts, big bows, and fast, loud, energetic routines.

Today, there are both club level cheer squads and school sanctioned cheer teams, including here at Jackson-Reed. Consisting of around 20 students, the Jackson-Reed cheer squad does both sideline cheering for the basketball teams and varsity football team, as well as attending competitions. In fact, the team is currently preparing for an upcoming DCIAA competition in early March. If you’re looking to join the squad next year, make sure to attend tryouts at the end of June, as the team wastes no time in launching straight into summer practices. 

From once a strictly male-only after school activity, cheerleading has evolved into a rigorous and athletic co-ed sport that engages all who come across it. Whether that means broadcasting one of the many cheer movies out there or joining a squad yourself, the joy, spirit, and energy of cheerleading can apply to anyone.

Leave a Comment
Donate to The Beacon

Please help us cover our annual operations cost! Donations over $35 dollars are eligible to be added to our subscriber newsletter, which provides special insights into The Beacon's production cycle and regular updates from our staff!

More to Discover
About the Contributor
Maya Roskes, Junior Editor
Donate to The Beacon

Comments (0)

All The Beacon Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *