From universities to the olympics – a history of cheerleading
Although cheerleading is commonly associated with colourful pom-poms and encouragement for competition and support of sport teams before and during games, it is first and foremost a sport discipline. And not an easy one either. After all, it combines gymnastics, acrobatics and dance.
How did it begin?
Cheerleading originated in the USA. In the 1980s at Princeton University, Thomas Peebles together with other students supported a local American football team with cheers. In 1884, he moved to the University of Minnesota, where he quickly popularised the idea of cheering on football players. On 2 November 1898, standing in front of a crowd of sport fans, Johnny Campbell, a medical student, started conducting the cheer on the spur of the moment. He was so effective that the team won and he made history as the first cheerleader. And thus the current sport discipline was born. Subsequent years saw the growth of cheerleading not only at universities, but also in secondary education circles. Cheering groups were equipped with flags, drums, megaphones and other props meant to create an atmosphere of excitement during sporting events.
Cheerleaders at the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1948
source: UW Digital Collections / Wikipedia
Cheerleading not only for men!
Although it might be hard to believe today, at first cheerleading was mainly performed by men. It was not until World War II that women dominated this activity. Since then, nearly 90 per cent of competitors have been girls. The discipline thrived, to the point where the National Cheerleaders Association was established in the USA only a few years after the war. The founder, Laurence “Herkie” Hurkimer, greatly contributed towards development of new skills and advanced techniques in cheerleading, as well as growth of its popularity.
The professional Baltimore Colts
The Baltimore Colts cheerleading group, formed in 1960, was the first professional team. Five years later, Fred Gasoff invented the modern pom-poms, which remain an attribute of cheerleaders to this day. From the 1970s on, the popularity of cheerleading continued to rise, and the female dancers acted as supporters not only for American football or basketball teams, but also swimming and track-and-field competitors.
Cheerleading takes over the world
In the 1980s and the 1990s, cheerleading started gaining popularity in various other countries, such as Japan, Chile, the United Kingdom, Germany and in Scandinavia. This discipline started to flourish in the USA as well, as evidenced by the massive number of competitions held nearly every weekend in many American towns and cities.
The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders performing on the deck of a US nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser in 1983
source: National Archives and Records Administration / Wikipedia
The President was a cheerleader, too!
Cheerleading is so important and popular a sport in the USA that even famous Americans had careers in it. In the 1960s, future US president George Bush played trumpet as the head cheerleader at the Phillips Academy in Massachusetts. And he was not the only president of the United States with such a past. Ronald Reagan supported his fellow students at Eureka College, Dwight Eisenhower focused on cheering after he quit playing American football, and Franklin D. Roosevelt was a Harvard cheerleader in the early 20th century, back when the sport did not enjoy as great popularity as now. Celebrities whose careers started with cheerleading include Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence, Madonna, Cameron Diaz and Eva Longoria.
Cheerleading in Poland
Cheerleading in Poland begun in 1988, when first team was founded by Edward and Ruta Krajewski in Warsaw. The team participated in World Cheerleading Championships in Japan four times – gaining knowledge and experience to make progress in this discipline in our country. In 1997 a Cheerleading Section was established in association to Polish Basketball Union which helped to develop first rules for cheerleading competitions and allowed to organize I Polish Cheerleading Championships. 30 teams from all over Poland took part in this competition in 3 ages categories. In next few years cheerleading became more and more popular in Poland and in 2001 there was an organization funded, to gather all the cheerleaders across the country – Polish Cheerleading Association (PCA). It’s founders and first board members were Edward and Ruta Krajewski, Mikołaj Korzun, Jerzy Wojtkowaik and Maria Kapczyńska. Becoming a member of European Cheerleading Association (ECA) in 2005 was a break through moment for PCA. It was the first time when Polish national team took part in European Cheerleading Championships in Moscow. Membership in ECA gave Polish cheerleaders new opportunities. Thanks to special international workshops and conferences in only two years Judges Rules and Competition Rules changed significantly, so that they fit to European standards. New system of coaches and judges training was established. Knowledge gained through cooperation with ECA, International Federation of Cheerleading (IFC), International Cheer Union (ICU) and European Cheer Union (ECU) helped cheerleading to thrive in Poland and also allowed Polish National Team to take part in European and World Cheerleading Championships.
Polish Cheerleading Sport Association
Polish Cheerleading Sport Association (PCSA) was founded in March 2018 by four associations: Polish Dance Federation, Students Sports Club Duet, Students Dancing Sports Club Shock Dance Szczecin and Sports Club Gravitation. Piotr Patłaszyński was elected as a first President of PCSA and in board of this Association there was also Leszek Cichocki, Szymon Kowalewski and Andrzej Kuźnicki. PCSA represents cheerleading in Polish Ministry of Sports and officially organizes Polish Sport Cheerleading Championships. PCSA is a way to express ambitions and dreams of coaches, parents and athletes to reach the best teams of Europe and World. PCSA is a member of European Cheer Union and International Cheer Union. Its priority is to appoint and prepare National Team to take part in Olympic Games, Paralympics, World and Europe Championships.
On 6th of December 2016 International Olympic Committee recognized cheerleading as an Olympic sport which will allow cheerleading to make a debut in Olympic Games during 2024. This decision raised hopes of athletes, coaches and activists for further development, higher recognizability and wider interest of the sport.
On 21st of November 2020 Polish Cheerleading Association signed an official agreement with Polish Cheerleading Sport Assocaition to cooperate in order to develop cheerleading in Poland. First cooperation was organization of mutual judges workshop in December 2020. There was also a Sports Development Committee established with Piotr Patłaszyński, Leszek Cichocki, Bartosz Penkala and Anna Polatowska-Zegar in it. This Committee since September 2020 is working on new solutions to promote cheerleading. Thanks to that official PCSA Polish Cup competitions started and what is more, judges and competition rules as well as coaches and judges schooling were updated.