January 2021


early evolution. By the 1950s, cheerleading was a female-dominated sport, and that trend continued well into the 70s. By 1975, 95% of cheerleaders were female ( ​Hanson, Mary Ellen. Go! Fight! Win!: Cheerleading in American Culture )​ While high schools across the nation boasted squads of beautiful, bubbly females, the collegiate level was still home to a fair share of male cheerleaders. One cheerleader in particular, Lawrence Herkimer, was already making waves and would eventual ly revolutionize the sport. In 1949, Herkimer, a former cheerleader from Southern Methodist University, administered a cheerleading education clinic. The first clinic had only 52 participants; the second had 350! He founded the National Cheerleading Association (NCA), and by the 1960s, college cheerleaders could find employment with NCA by coaching workshops around the country. The popularity of NCA and the ability to teach cheerleaders proper technique led to the invention of new jumps, stunts, uniform styles and ultimately competitions. NCA is still considered paramount in cheerleading. To win NCA nationals, or work on the NCA staff, is often a cheerleader’s ultimate goal. Texarkana native and current University of Central Arkansas cheerleader, Haley Smith, is part of the NCA staff. “Because cheer has had such a big influence in my life, I’m very passionate about it. I love that being part of the NCA staff allows me to spread my love for cheer to younger people,” she said. The 1980s introduced difficult stunts and gymnastics to cheerleading on a whole new level. In 1983, ESPN aired the first televised cheerleading competition. The 80s also brought the birth of all-star teams, squads that work solely towards the goal of competing. Concepts expanded, and teams at every level became more and more focused on athleticism. Tryouts were judged by knowledgeable outsiders, and spots were earned on merit. The tryout process and the general nature of cheer, instills a sense of confidence and creates growth in its very own way. ​Joni Wright, owner of Joni’s Gymnastics, Dance and Cheer Centre, home of Cheer Elite All-Stars, elaborated, noting that cheerleading has a tremendous

photos by actionmoments.com

impact on the lives of cheerleaders outside of the gym. “One of the most important things cheerleading instills is confidence. This is because it shows you that you can accomplish difficult things and it surrounds you with good, supportive friends, and among other things teaches the athletes to stand up for themselves, enthusiasm, focus and determination, teamwork, to be fearless, to deal with high-pressure situations, commitment, setting goals and to never stop smiling.” So, what really defines a sport, anyway? According to ​Bing.com ​, a sport is “​an activity involving physical exertion

and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.” When I asked local Twin City Cheer and Gymnastics owner, and Pleasant Grove cheer coach, Shera Hopkins what she thought, she exclaimed, “Of course I consider it a sport. I think the physical, emotional part, the hours of training, and even the injuries are consistent with all types of sports. Plus, the dedication these kids put into trying to better themselves and improve their skills is equal to athletes in all fields.” Joni got straight to the point saying, “They get judged, they compete, they have to stay conditioned; what could


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