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Rah! Rah! Rah! for Male Cheerleaders

2 November 2011

I just had to share this.  The following comes from Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac.

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It’s the birthday of cheerleading, which made its debut at the University of Minnesota on this date[2 November] in 1898. Pep clubs had been around for a couple of decades, especially at Princeton, where their all-male pep club led the crowd in unified chanting to motivate the football team. In 1884, Princeton alum Thomas Peebles moved to Minneapolis, and brought the pep club concept along to the University of Minnesota’s football games. Two of the university’s rugby players, John Adams and Win Sargent, came up with a “team yell” that same year to cheer on the rugby team: Ski-U-Mah, which neatly rhymes with “Rah, rah, rah!” But all of these chants and cheers were led from the stands.

In the fall of 1898, the U of M’s football team had suffered three consecutive losses, and fans were desperate for a way to raise team spirit for the season’s final game against Northwestern. The pep club brainstormed plans to further involve the spectators, and nominated a group of “yell leaders” to lead the crowd in the now-traditional chant, “Rah, Rah, Rah! Ski-U-Mah! Hoo-Rah! Hoo-Rah! Varsity! Varsity! Minn-e-so-ta!” One of the yell leaders, Johnny Campbell, took the radical step of running out to the playing field with a megaphone. He faced the crowd, whipped them to a frenzy, and got much of the credit for Minnesota’s victory.

Cheerleading was a male-only sport until 1923, when the first female cheerleaders took the field. This phenomenon didn’t really take off until the 1940s, when the male student body was depleted by World War II. The ’20s also saw the advent of acrobatics, human pyramids, and dance moves to accompany the fight songs and chants.

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