Cheerleading is an activity that uses organized routines made up of elements from gymnastics, dance or performance stunting/action to cheer on sports teams at games and matches, and/or as a competitive sport. A cheerleading performer is called a cheerleader. It is most common in North America, but has spread elsewhere in other countries.
Cheerleading first started at Princeton University in the 1880s with the crowd chant, as a way to encourage school spirit at football games. A few years later, Princeton graduate Thomas Peebles introduced the idea of organized crowd chanting to the University of Minnesota in 1894, but it was not until 1898 that University of Minnesota student Johnny Campbell stood in front of the crowd, and directed them in a chant, making Campbell the very first cheerleader. Soon after that, the University of Minnesota organized a "yell leader" squad of 6 male students. Although it is estimated that 97% of today's cheerleading participants are female, cheerleading started out as an all-male activity. Females started to participate in cheerleading in the 1920s, due to limited availability of female collegiate sports. This is also when gymnastics and tumbling were incorporated into the cheers, the University of Minnesota was first to do this. By the 1940s, it was a largely female activity.
Cheerleading is most closely associated with American football, and to a lesser degree basketball. Sports such as soccer, ice hockey, volleyball, baseball, and wrestling rarely have cheerleaders. The only Major League Baseball team with cheerleaders as of 2006 is the Florida Marlins.
In 1948, Lawrence "Herkie" Herkimer formed the National Cheerleaders Association (NCA) as a way to hold cheerleading clinics. The National Cheerleaders Association held its first clinic in 1949 with 52 girls in attendance. The next year, the clinic had grown to 350 cheerleaders. By the 1950s, most American high schools had formed cheerleading squads. By the 1960s, cheerleading had grown to be a staple in American high school and collegiate sports. Organized cheerleading competitions began to crop up with the first ranking of the "Top Ten College Cheerleading Squads" and "Cheerleader All America" awards given out by the International Cheerleading Foundation (now the World Cheerleading Association or WCA) in 1967. In 1978, America was introduced to competitive cheerleading by the first broadcast of Collegiate Cheerleading Championships on CBS.
In the 1960s National Football League (NFL) teams began to organize professional cheerleading teams. It was the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders who gained the spotlight with their revealing outfits and sophisticated dance moves, which debuted in the 1972-1973 season, but were first seen widely in Super Bowl X (1976). This caused the image of cheerleaders to permanently change, with many other NFL teams emulating them. Most of the professional teams' cheerleading squads would more accurately be described as dance teams by today's standards; as they rarely, if ever, actively encourage crowd noise or perform modern cheerleading moves.
The 1980s saw the onset of modern cheerleading with more difficult stunts and gymnastics being incorporated into routines. Cheerleading organizations such as the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Advisors (AACCA) started applying safety guidelines and offering courses on safety training for coaches and sponsors. In 2003, the National Council for Spirit Safety and Education (NCSSE) was formed to offer safety training for youth, school, all star and college coaches. The NCAA requires college cheer coaches to successfully complete a nationally recognized safety training program. The NCSSE or AACCA certification programs are both recognized by the NCAA.
According to latest studies, there are nearly 3.5 million cheerleaders in the USA alone, and half as many dance team members and gymnasts, taking the total number of participants involved in cheerleading and allied activities in the USA to above 5 million. There are also tens of thousands of cheerleaders in Europe, Central America, Australia, and Asia.