Cheerleader!: An American Icon

Cheerleader!: An American Icon

by Natalie Guice Adams, Pamela Jean Bettis

NOOK Book(eBook)

View All Available Formats & Editions

Available on Compatible NOOK Devices and the free NOOK Apps.
WANT A NOOK?  Explore Now

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250098245
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 09/15/2015
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 208
File size: 595 KB

About the Author

Pamela J. Bettis is assistant professor in the College of Education at Washington State University. She tried out for the Churchland, Virginia cheer squad in 1969; for unknown reasons, she was not selected.

Natalie Guice Adams is Associate Professor in the College of Education at the University of Alabama. She was a Winnsboro, Louisiana cheerleader from 1975-1980.

Bettis and Adams are coauthors of Cheerleader! An American Icon.

Natalie Guice Adams is Associate Professor in the College of Education at the University of Alabama and was a Winnsboro, Louisiana cheerleader from 1975-1980.

Read an Excerpt


An American Icon

By Natalie Guice Adams, Pamela J. Bettis

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2003 Natalie Guice Adams and Pamela J. Bettis
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4039-6892-0



As American as Apple Pie and Customized Synthetic Wiglets

Hey! Hey! What do you say?
We're proud to live in the USA!

During the summer of 2002, we followed a discussion on a cheerleading listserv in which cheerleaders and their coaches grappled with how to choreograph sensitively a routine that was to be a part of a memorial observance for September 11, 2001. One coach replied in detail about her squad's performance during a November holiday parade following the attack. The squad is located near New York City, and members and their families had personal connections with those lost in the tragedy. In reflecting on how she had conceptualized the entire performance and selected the music, she wrote:

Using the flag only brought the symbolism visually to the front. Auld Lange Syne always causes reflection of the past year — past events — it was different — except for what was being reflected on.... Going into the "Born in the USA" for us was a symbol of — this is where we are — We're Americans, we're strong. By ending with the Jingle Bells, it was our symbol of "We will survive and continue on" — even though we have seen great tragedy, we can still celebrate and continue on.

According to the sponsor, audience members wept during the routine, and the announcer kept repeating "beautiful" as the squad performed.

After first reading these exchanges, we were struck by the seeming strangeness of cheerleaders performing a memorial tribute to such a terrible national tragedy. However, reflecting on how the activity of cheerleading represents much of what is our uniquely American character and identity, the inclusion of cheerleaders at such a memorial service began to make sense to us. Combining a new-age version of a traditional New Year's Eve song with Springsteen's rock 'n' roll patriotic lament of the Vietnam War and economic decline in the United States, and capping these with "Jingle Bells," in some ways represents the complexity of an American identity.

Photographer Eddie Adams also thought that cheerleaders say something about American culture and identity. He included a picture of high school cheerleaders in his pictorial display "Our American Spirit," commemorating the first anniversary of September 11 in the nationally syndicated Sunday Parade magazine. Adams' task was to present images that demonstrated American resiliency in the face of adversity. The cheerleading picture he included was labeled "Sheer Energy" and was placed next to a photograph of a young civil rights marcher in the 1963 march on Washington, D.C., and above a portrait of a family who was on vacation. How American such a disparate range of images is. And cheerleading was among them.

For many Americans, cheerleading is, indeed, as American as apple pie. Maybe it's because cheerleading began in this country and has not caught on in other countries as much as other American cultural and corporate institutions, such as McDonalds and jazz. Perhaps, it's because female cheerleaders are often described as the "all-American, girl next door" and are still considered, by many, to represent the ideal American girl. Or maybe it's because cheerleading is so closely associated with the American spectacle of football, the sport beloved by so many Americans of every race, ethnicity, age, and social class. Maybe it's because "cheerleading" is used with such regularity in our American vernacular, often in contexts having nothing to do with sports, that it's part of our cultural lexicon as reflected in a recent newspaper headline, "Workers blame corporate cheerleading for huge retirement losses with BC-Enron - Investigation." Cheerleading represents, for many, the American virtues they embrace: loyalty and devotion to a cause; perseverance even in the face of insurmountable obstacles; and a confidence and optimism that sometimes defy explanation.

Granted, cheerleading may be as American as apple pie for some. But for many others, it's definitely a store-bought frozen apple pie with too much sugar and not enough apples. Take, for example, Marty Beckerman, the teenage author of Death to All Cheerleaders and former editor of his Alaska high school newspaper, who agrees that cheerleading does indeed represent something about our American character: its worst traits. "Cheerleading is nothing more than a perfect example, an incontestable paradigm, of what is horribly wrong with our generation.... Our generation, as a whole, has so much capacity, but we toss it all away on vacuous brand name loyalties and the superficial corporate blueprint for our lives that is unceasingly shoved down out throats." Many would agree with Beckerman's assessment of cheerleaders as shallow in character, disingenuous, egocentric, and materialistic, and would point out that these character flaws are often the same criticisms aimed at Americans as a whole.

Whether we think cheerleaders represent the best of American culture or the worst of American culture, the fact is cheerleading is a uniquely American cultural institution that reveals much about the diverse and contradictory values of the American people. Cheerleading's origins are found in this country. Further, cheerleading has persevered through massive cultural changes since its beginnings in the late 1800s, and its popularity continues into the twenty-first century. So what can this activity tell us about some of our strengths and weaknesses as a people? What can it tell us about the American identity? More important, since cheerleading in this country is a mainly a youthful activity, what can it tell us about how we socialize our young people?

Cheerleading: An American Invention

On November 6, 1869, Princeton and Rutgers met for the first intercollegiate football game. At this time, 25 players from each team were on the field at the same time; they could not throw the ball or run with it; they couldn't trip or hold the other players. Their main goal was to "kick or bat the round, inflated rubber ball toward goals eight paces wide.... The first team to score six goals was to be the victor" At the end of the contest, Rutgers beat Princeton with a score of six goals to four. During the game, a group of Princeton spectators, residents of Nassau Hall, broke into a rocket cheer, known as the Princeton Locomotive:

Ray, ray, ray
Tiger, Tiger, Tiger
Sis, sis, sis
Boom, boom, boom
Princeton, Princeton, Princeton

Hence, cheerleading was born — so the story goes.

But the Princeton boys weren't the sole inventors of the cheer they yelled on that blustery November day. Rather, they borrowed it from a skyrocket cheer performed by the New York 7th Regiment when it passed through Princeton during the Civil War. Indeed, cheering has long been part of the military tradition, as this 1842 description of a U.S. Navy cheering spectacular illustrates:

At the command, "Clean yourselves!" the pig-tailed tars donned fresh uniforms; At "Lay aloft!" the crew clambered to the top-gallant masthead and the topmast crosstrees; at "Lay out upon the yards!" they scampered like monkeys to spaced intervals along the rigging, and at "Cheer!" they took off their caps, waved and shouted as lustily as possible. Regulations defined the length of the yell ...: After three cheers have been given, if the Commodore returns the same number, it must be answered by one; if he returns but one, no further notice is to be taken and the people called down.

When the Princeton students yelled the Princeton Locomotive at the 1869 game, it probably consisted only of the "sis, boom, aah" part. The tiger line may have been added in the 1880s, when the tiger was adopted as Princeton's mascot. Or the tiger used in the cheer may not have referred to an animal; rather it may have simply meant a "howl, yell, or shriek at the end of a round of cheering" or "the action at the end of a yell in which the cheerleader leaps into the air with arms and legs outstretched" — two common usages of the word "tiger" in the vernacular of the time.

Although football began as a game initiated and played by white male students on elite college campuses throughout the country, by the late 1800s many black colleges and universities also had football teams. The first football game between two black colleges was on December 27, 1892. Two North Carolina schools, Livingstone and Biddle, played, with Biddle winning 4–0 (at this time a touchdown was worth 4 points). By the early 1900s, football was the most popular sport on most college campuses and a revenue-producing activity. For example, from 1891 to 1894, receipts from Harvard football totaled nearly $19,000; by 1899–1902, that had risen to over $52,000. In 1903, with fewer than 5,000 students, Harvard built a stadium that could seat 57,000. By the early 1900s, football had become so dangerous (in the 1905 season alone, 18 deaths and 149 injuries related to football were reported) that President Theodore Roosevelt threatened to ban football from college campuses unless major changes were made. He formed the Intercollegiate Athletic Association, whose purpose was to make such changes. In 1910, this association changed its name to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

This institutionalization of sports into the administration and curriculum of colleges and universities was a signal that the role of sports in colleges and universities had changed. No longer was it seen as a student- initiated, - led, and -regulated leisure activity that kept unruly college men occupied while not studying; rather, sports was touted by its advocates as one of the best ways to socialize youth into the values and norms that bolster national unity and patriotism. As more and more colleges offered intercollegiate football, the need for institutional identity and proving one's loyalty to one's schools became intensified. Mascots, school colors, and local cheers helped to solidify this identity and loyalty to one's local school. So did cheer leaders, whose purpose was to organize spectator response to the games. In the early years, these first yell leaders or rooters were the players themselves, who, when not on the field, would let loose a yell. Beginning in the late 1890s colleges began officially designating yell leaders, rooter kings, or cheer leaders. Johnny Campbell of the University of Minnesota in 1898 is usually given credit for being the first officially recognized collegiate cheer leader. Typically, these first formal yell leaders were the captains of other sports at their university, such as baseball or track. By the early 1900s most colleges and universities had cheer leading squads or rooters who led the fans in such cheers as the following by the 1910 Southwestern Louisiana Industrial Institute Rooters:

Boomalacka, Boomalacka, Bow-wow-wow!
Chickalacka, Chickalacka, Chow-chow-chow!
Boomalacka, Chickalacka, Who are We?
Lafayette Institute, Don't You See?

At the same time that some college administrators were institutionalizing cheerleading on their campuses, others expressed concern over this form of school spirit, which sometimes resulted in "yelling oneself into the hospital or rattling a pitcher." Harvard President A. Lawrence Lowell asserted that organized cheering was the "worst means of expressing emotion ever invented." The editors of The Nation responded to Lowell with the following: "the reputation of having been a valiant 'cheer-leader' is one of the most valuable things a boy can take away from college. As a title to promotion in professional or public life, it ranks hardly second to that of being a quarterback." This last line of The Nation's overly enthusiastic retort to President Lowell does indicate the importance assigned to cheerleading in terms of its public prominence and its association with college leadership. It was during this time period that cheerleading also became affiliated with high-status fraternities on campus. Greek organizations came to be the major suppliers of collegiate leadership in all of its variations, from athletics to student government to cheerleading.

Cheerleading remained a predominantly male activity well into the 1930s for a variety of reasons. During this era, men still outnumbered women on university campuses; further, traditional feminine emotional and physical traits did not seem appropriate for cheerleading; and the belief that women could even be harmed by the activity kept most women from participating. Thus, the two earliest manuals on cheerleading, written in 1927, refer exclusively to cheerleaders as "man," "chap," and "fellow." Prior to World War II, yell leaders formed Gamma Sigma, a national honorary fraternity for yell marshals, and with the help of sportswriters and sportscasters, they selected an annual 11-man All-American cheering squad. As late as 1939, female cheerleaders were excluded from the All-American cheering squad, and even in the 1950s, the head cheerleader was still typically referred to as the "rooter king." Thus, although young women in the late 1920s and 1930s began entering collegiate organized cheering in small numbers, until the late 1940s cheering was still considered to be a male activity, associated with masculine characteristics of athleticism and leadership.

This brief early history of cheerleading demonstrates its unique relationship to the eminently American institution of sports, specifically football during this time, and the military. Cheerleading's origins, therefore, lay in the making of men, and not just any men, but American men. Through the regimen of physical contests that football provided in its more bloody days and the hardships and discipline encountered in early American military life, cheers and cheerleading were an acceptable part of the socialization of American men.

Cheerleading: Pride, Patriotism, and Tradition

Two bits, four bits, six bits a dollar
All for the Wildcats stand up and holler.

That's the Wildcat Battle Cry!

Winnsboro, Louisiana, sits in the northeast corner of the state, 40 miles from the Mississippi River. Highway 15 runs through the middle of town, and anyone driving that way remembers Winnsboro because of its 325 18-feet-high American flags adorning a 2-mile stretch along that highway. For a while, the largest flag to fly on a pole outside of Washington, D.C., flew in Winnsboro's Patriot Square. The wind whipped it so badly that after 18 days it was almost in shreds and, unknown to many in the community, had to be replaced by a smaller one. Winnsboro is a frequent winner of the Cleanest City Contest. It's home to the Catfish Festival, which in 2002 drew more than 40,000 people. Fred Carter, Jr., accomplished Nashville studio musician and father of country music singer Deana Carter, grew up there. Booger McFarland, defensive tackle for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is a Winnsboro native. It's also the home of Debra Kay Robinson, 1979 Miss World Rodeo and World Barrel Racer, the 1967 state runner-up football champs, and the 1992 AAA state basketball champs. These are fairly impressive facts for a town of only 6,000.

Similar to most small towns in the United States, tradition is important in Winnsboro, and much of the community's traditions are centered around Winnsboro High School, particularly Winnsboro High School sports. Local talk says that the first football coach was B. S. Landis, Jr., who attended school in the Northeast, where he witnessed a football game, was enamoured with the game, returned home and began a team in Winnsboro, around 1925. By the 1940s, football was firmly established in Winnsboro, with cheerleaders being integral to the football rituals, which included pep rallies, afternoon parades, and Friday night games. For over 50 years, WHS cheerleaders have made decorations for the halls, gym, and bleachers of Winnsboro High, organized pep rallies, painted signs for football players to run through, greeted the opposing team's fans and cheerleaders, and led the sometimes large but often small crowds of football fans in cheering for the team.

Betty Price Sewell, a WHS cheerleader from 1947 to 1950 and, before her death in 2002, an ardent supporter of her All-American cheerleader granddaughter, recalls the simplicity of cheerleading in the post-WWII era: "It was a happy time for us. World War II was over; our brothers, cousins and older friends were home.... Being a cheerleader was the epitome of being popular. It was 'self esteem to the max!'— before we knew anything about self esteem and self confidence!"


Excerpted from Cheerleader! by Natalie Guice Adams, Pamela J. Bettis. Copyright © 2003 Natalie Guice Adams and Pamela J. Bettis. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction - Cheerleading: What's There to Cheer About?
1. Cheerleading--As American as Apple Pie and Customized Synthetic Wiglets
2. Cheerleading with a Twist: Transformative Cheerleaders
3. Pump it Up: Sports, Athleticism, and the New Cheerleader
4. Cleavage, Buns, and Poms: Cheerleading and Eroticism
5. Cheerleading as a "White Girl Thing": The Racial Politics of Cheerleading
6. From Cheer Making to Money Making: The Spirit Industry
7. Cheer Evolution: The Changing Face of a Cultural Icon

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews

Cheerleader!: An American Icon 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Can i try out?
AlyssaBall More than 1 year ago
This book really opened my eyes to all aspects of cheerleading. It is very informative and descriptive when it comes to explaining the history of cheerleading. The author does an excellent job of being unbias in her writting. She describes all sides of cheerleading and shows the reader all the good and bad things that come with cheerleading. She explores the different ideas and stereotypes of cheerleaders and really exposes alot of things about cheerleading that the average person probably doesn't know. This book was really well organized and put together. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in cheerleading or anyone who has any interest in finding out more about it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book quite a bit and it is definitely a change from what I am used to reading. First of all, it is nice that this book gives views from both sides of the spectrum. The authors explain how cheerleading gives girls an excuse to be provocative but they also end up saying that cheerleading gives girls strong leadership skills. There are also some interesting and even disturbing cheerleading stories in this book. Also, this book isn't only hinged around school related cheerleading. It goes into depth about competition cheerleading and different cheerleading organizations around the country that aren't affiliated with schools. One thing that stuck out to me in this book was that the majority of cheerleaders until about the 1950s were dominantly male. Overall this book was very good. Don't just pass it by because it has a cheerleader on the cover. Give it a shot, you'll probably like it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As a cheerleader myself I really enjoyed reading this book and recommend it. Everything in this book was well researched and easy to understand. It tells a lot about the positives and negatives of cheerleading - the effects of it on those who cheer and the american society. Also, I enjoyed this book because it discussed how others sterotype cheerleaders. Not only did it discuss the typical "high-school cheerleader" but, it gave many other examples and types of cheerleaders - many that you could never even imagin. The topics in this book were easy to relate to and understand. It was a great book because it showed facts about the truth behind cheerleading - everything that cheerleaders have to go through and put up with.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Cheerleader an American Icon was a great book. It really opened my eyes and made me think about cheerleading in a different perspective. And it was pretty cool to find out where, when, and how cheerleading got started. I do reccomend this book to anyone. Even cheerleaders.