AskDefine | Define cheerleader

Dictionary Definition



1 an enthusiastic and vocal supporter; "he has become a cheerleader for therapeutic cloning"
2 someone who leads the cheers by spectators at a sporting event

User Contributed Dictionary



cheer + leader



  1. In the context of "mostly|US": A person (usually female) who encourages applause at a sports event.
  2. A person who rallies support for any cause.

Derived terms


person (usually female) who encourages applaus

Extensive Definition

Cheerleading is a sport that uses organized routines made from elements of some tumbling, dance, jumps and stunting to direct the event's spectators to cheer on sports teams at games and matches and/or compete at cheerleading competitions. The athlete involved is called a cheerleader. With an estimated 1.5 million participants in allstar cheerleading (not including the millions more in high school, college or little league participants) in the United States alone, cheerleading is, according to Newsweek's Arian Campo-Flores, "the most quintessential of American sports." the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden and the United Kingdom. A few years later, Princeton graduate, Thomas Peebles introduced the idea of organized crowd cheering at football games to the University of Minnesota. However, it was not until 1898 that University of Minnesota student Johnny Campbell directed a crowd in cheering "Rah, Rah, Rah! Sku-u-mar, Hoo-Rah! Hoo-Rah! Varsity! Varsity! Varsity, Minn-e-So-Tah!”, making Campbell the very first cheerleader and November 2, 1898 the official birth date of organized cheerleading. Soon after, the University of Minnesota organized a "yell leader" squad of 6 male students, who still use Campbell's original cheer today Cheerleading started out as an all-male activity, but females began participating in 1923, due to limited availability of female collegiate sports. At this time, gymnastics, tumbling, and megaphones were incorporated into popular cheers.
In 1948, Lawrence "Herkie" Herkimer, of Dallas, TX and a former cheerleader at Southern Methodist University formed the National Cheerleaders Association (NCA) as a way to hold cheerleading clinics. In 1949, The NCA held its first clinic in Huntsville, TX with 52 girls in attendance. and creating the "Spirit Stick". 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 stunt sequences and gymnastics being incorporated into routines. ESPN first broadcasted the National High School Cheerleading Competition nationwide in 1983. Cheerleading organizations such as the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Advisors (AACCA) started applying universal safety standards to decrease the number of injuries and prevent dangerous stunts, pyramids and tumbling passes from being included in routines. 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.
Today, cheerleading is most closely associated with American football and basketball. Sports such as soccer, ice hockey, volleyball, baseball, and wrestling sometimes sponsor cheerleading squads. The ICC Twenty20 Cricket World Cup in South Africa in 2007 was the first international cricket event to have cheerleaders. The Florida Marlins were the first Major League Baseball team to have cheerleaders. Debuting in 2003, the "Marlin Mermaids" gained national exposure and have influenced other MLB teams to develop their own cheer/dance squads.

Types of teams


Most American high schools and colleges have organized cheerleading squads made up solely of students. Several colleges that compete at cheerleading competitions offer cheerleading scholarships. Some military academies use their drill team or color guard team instead of a cheersquad at athletic events, but some military academies have traditional cheerleading squads just like other everyday universities.

Youth league

Many organisations that sponsor youth league football or basketball sponsor cheerleading squads as well. Pop Warner organizations are an example of this.

All-Star cheerleading

In the early 1980s, cheerleading squads not associated with a schools or sports leagues, whose main objective was competition, began to emerge. The first organization to call themselves all stars and go to competitions were the Q94 Rockers from Richmond, Virginia, founded in 1982 by Hilda McDaniel. All-star teams competing prior to 1987 were place into the same divisions as teams that represented schools and sports leagues. In 1986 National Cheerleaders Association (NCA) decided to address this situation by creating a separate division for these teams lacking a sponsoring school or athletic association, calling it the 'All-Star Division' and debuting it at their 1987 competitions. As the popularity of these types of teams grew, more and more of them were formed, attending competitions sponsored by many different types of organizations and companies, all using their own set of rules, regulations and divisions. This situation became one of the chief concerns of gym owners. These inconsistencies caused coaches to keep their routines in a constant state of flux, detracting from time that should be utilized to develop skills and provide personal attention to their athletes. More importantly, because the various companies were constantly vying for the competitive edge, safety standards had becoming more and more lax. In some cases, unqualified coaches and inexperienced squads are attempting dangerous stunts as a result of these “expanded” sets of rules.
The USASF was formed in 2003 by these various competition companies to act as the national governing body for all star cheerleading and to create a standard set of rules and judging standards to be followed by all competitions sanctioned by the Federation and ultimately leading to the Cheerleading Worlds. The USASF hosted the first Cheerleading Worlds on Saturday, April 24, 2004.
Currently all-star cheerleading as sanctioned by the USASF involves a squad of 6-36 females and/or males. The squad prepares year-round for many different competition appearances, but they only actually perform for up to 2½ minutes during their routines. The numbers of competitions a team participates in varies from team to team, but generally, most teams tend to participate in eight-twelve competitions a year. These competitions include locals, which are normally taken place in school gymnasiums, nationals, hosted in big arenas all around the U.S. with national champions, and worlds, taken place all around the world. During a competition routine, a squad performs carefully choreographed stunting, tumbling, jumping and dancing to their own custom music. Teams create their routines to an eight-count system and apply that to the music so the team members execute the elements with precise timing and synchronization.
Judges at the competition watch for illegal moves from the group or any individual member. Here, an illegal move is something that is not allowed in that division due to difficulty and safety restrictions. More generally, judges look at the difficulty and execution of jumps, stunts and tumbling, synchronization, creativity, the sharpness of the motions, showmanship, and overall routine execution.
All-star cheerleaders are placed into divisions, which are grouped based upon age, size of the team, gender of participants, and ability level. The age levels vary from under 4 year of age to 18 years and over. The divisions used by the USASF/IASF are currently Tiny, Mini, Youth, Junior, Junior International, Junior Coed,Senior, Senior coed, Open International and Open.
If a team places high enough at selected USASF/IASF sanctioned national competitions, they could be included in the Cheerleading Worlds and compete against teams from all over the world. Also they could get money for placing.

Cheerleading in popular culture

Movies and television

Also see List of cheerleaders in fiction
Cheerleading's increasing popularity in recent decades has made it a prominent feature in high-school themed movies and television shows. The 2000 film Bring It On, about a San Diego high school cheerleading squad called "The Toros", starring real-life former cheerleader Kirsten Dunst. Bring It On was a surprise hit and earned nearly $70 million domestically. It spawned two direct-to-video sequels (Bring It On Again in 2003 and Bring It On: All or Nothing in 2006). The fourth film in the franchise, Bring It On: In It to Win It, was released on December 18, 2007. Bring It On was followed in 2001 by another teen cheerleading comedy, Sugar & Spice. In 1993, The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom was an acclaimed TV movie which told the true story of Wanda Holloway, the Texas mother whose obsession with her daughter's cheerleading career made headline news.
In 2006, Hayden Panettiere, star of Bring It On: All or Nothing, took another cheerleading role as Claire Bennet, the cheerleader with an accelarated healing factor on NBC's hit sci-fi TV series Heroes, launching cheerleading back into the limelight of pop culture. Claire was the main focus of the show's first story arc, featuring the popular catchphrase, "Save the cheerleader, save the world." Claire demonstrates a sensitive and caring persona atypical of the archetypal cheerleader. Her prominent, protagonist role in Heroes was supported by a strong fan-base and provided a positive image for high school cheerleading.

Video games

Nintendo has released a pair of video games in Japan for the Nintendo DS, Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan and its sequel Moero! Nekketsu Rhythm Damashii that star teams of male cheer squads, or Ouendan that practice a form of cheerleading unique to Japanese culture. Each of the games' most difficult modes replaces the male characters with female cheer squads that dress in western cheerleading uniforms. The games task the cheer squads with assisting people in desperate need of help by cheering them on and giving them the motivation to succeed.

Sport debate

Cheerleading among others has had debate on whether or not it truly is a sport. Supporters consider cheerleading as a whole as a sport citing the heavy use of athletic talents while critics do not see it as deserving of that status since sport implies a competition among squads and not all squads compete along with subjectivity of competitions.

Dangers of cheerleading

There have been injuries associated with cheerleading. One of the most notable in recent years was that of Kristi Yamaoka, a cheerleader at Southern Illinois University. On March 5 2006, she fell off of a human pyramid during a cheerleading performance at a basketball game between Southern Illinois University and Bradley University at the Scottrade Center (then known as the Savvis Center) in St. Louis. Yamaoka leaned backward and fell off the third tier of a pyramid. Her performance from the stretcher as she was carried off the court was nationwide news. She suffered a fractured thoracic vertebra, concussion, and bruised lung, and has since made a full recovery.
As a result of the fall, the Missouri Valley Conference banned tossing or launching of cheerleaders, and no pyramid could be higher than two levels during that conference's women's basketball tournament. Additionally, the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators recommended banning basket tosses and high pyramids without mats. Though the group has no authority to prevent such routines, the NCAA requires cheerleading squads to conform to the group's requirements. The AACCA rules committee made the bans permanent on July 11 2006.
cheerleader in Czech: Cheerleading
cheerleader in German: Cheerleading
cheerleader in Spanish: Animación (deporte)
cheerleader in French: Pom-pom girl
cheerleader in Indonesian: Pemandu sorak
cheerleader in Hebrew: עידוד (ספורט)
cheerleader in Hungarian: Cheerleading
cheerleader in Dutch: Cheerleading
cheerleader in Japanese: チアリーダー
cheerleader in Norwegian: Cheerleading
cheerleader in Polish: Cheerleading
cheerleader in Portuguese: Animadora de torcida
cheerleader in Russian: Черлидинг
cheerleader in Simple English: Cheerleader
cheerleader in Finnish: Cheerleading
cheerleader in Swedish: Cheerleading
cheerleader in Thai: เชียร์ลีดเดอร์
cheerleader in Chinese: 競技啦啦隊
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