Varsity Spirit’s leaders are cheerleading and dance legends. These individuals took the leadership skills they learned on the sidelines and have made cheerleading the American phenomenon it is today. In their quest to continually expand our activity further, they’ve impacted countless lives and created incredible opportunities for millions of athletes around the world.
Jeff Webb founded Universal Cheerleaders Association (UCA) in 1974 with the goal of transforming cheerleading into the dynamic, athletic, high profile activity it is today. His vision of incorporating athleticism and entertainment with the traditional crowd leadership role created a new style of cheerleading that caused the activity to explode in popularity from the 1980's into the 21st century.
As his camp organization grew throughout the 1980's, he added a unique and cutting-edge uniform concept, as well as created the first actual national competition for cheerleaders. These three elements -- educational camps, uniforms, and competitions -- were combined to form Varsity Spirit.
Webb is known as a visionary and an innovator. From the development of new stunts, to the addition of exciting high performance uniforms, and finally to actually creating the format for modern cheerleading competitions, his leadership has propelled Varsity Spirit from its humble beginning to the global powerhouse organization it is today.
In addition to directing Varsity Spirit's meteoric rise as a business and educational organization, Jeff is responsible for bringing cheerleading to television through Varsity's 32 year relationship with ESPN. Webb has also served as host and expert commentator on more than 200 cheerleading broadcasts on the network.
Jeff is also credited with founding the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators (AACCA), the United States All Star Federation (USASF), USA Cheer, and the International Cheer Union, all governing organizations focused on supporting cheerleading's healthy growth and development in the U.S. and around the world.
Today, as Chairman and Founder of Varsity Brands, Jeff Webb leads a dynamic portfolio of brands that promote student participation while celebrating academic and athletic achievement. Through its three industry-leading businesses – Herff Jones, Varsity Spirit and BSN SPORTS – Varsity Brands serve as the single source for every customer’s SPORT, SPIRIT and ACHIEVEMENT needs.
Greg Webb was one of the original instructors for the Universal Cheerleaders Association in 1974. Over the next 30 years, Greg led Varsity's camp division as it grew from 3,000 participants to almost 200,000 participants.
Greg was instrumental in increasing the overall safety of the activity and the development of structured educational opportunities for coaches. He helped to establish the teaching techniques and stunt progressions that are still used today. Greg also worked with the National Federation of State High School Associations to write the first set of cheerleading safety rules.
Greg helped organize the founding of the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators (AACCA), and led the team that wrote and published the AACCA Cheerleading Safety Manual, still recognized as the standard of care for all cheerleading activities.
Greg led the establishment of the UCA Children's Charities fund that has donated more than one million dollars in efforts to fight childhood disease. He was also named to the advisory board for the Women's Sports Foundation and persuaded the Foundation to embrace cheerleading as a legitimate athletic activity for young women. He also led the formation of the Organization of Spirit Industry Providers (OSIP).
Today Greg is the President of Spirited Sales Leaders, an organization he created to assist former cheerleaders establish sales careers.
Lawrence R. Herkimer
Lawrence R. Herkimer was the founder of the National Cheerleaders Association, the nation's first professional cheerleading training organization.
He held the first organized cheerleading camp in Huntsville, Texas in 1948. His signature jump while a cheerleader at SMU in the 1940's -- called the ``Herkie`` -- became one of the most popular jumps for cheerleaders nationwide and is still performed around the world today. NCA remains one of the largest and most influential camp and competition organizations.
Herkie also developed many ``firsts`` in cheerleading. He founded the first ready-made uniform company, Cheerleader Supply Company, in 1951 to meet the uniform needs of cheerleaders (currently known as Cheerleader&DanzTeam). In the mid 1950's, Herkie created the PomPon and held the patent for the stick with colored paper designed to attract the attention of fans in the stands and to be more visible on the newly introduced ``color`` television. Herkie also created the Spirit Stick in 1957 as a reminder to teams of the importance of positive attitudes, leadership, and supporting the team and leading the fans. The Spirit Stick is still one of the most cherished awards in cheerleading.
Herkimer will always be revered and loved by cheerleaders, coaches, and former instructors nationwide.
At 19, Kris joined Jeff Webb to become one of the first 20 instructors for the Universal Cheerleaders Association. A former University of Arkansas cheerleader, Kris has been an influential leader and has played a significant role in the development of cheerleading and dance team at Varsity.
Kris collaborated on the first cheerleading routine to music – a UCA college demo routine in 1976 to the theme from the movie Rocky. This routine was the actual predecessor to today's competition performances. This concept propelled cheerleading into the entertainment arena, which eventually led to the creation of the modern cheerleading competition format.
Kris organized and administered the first National High School Cheerleading Championship in 1980, along with the first College Cheerleading National Championship in 1983 and the first National Dance Team Championship in 1985. As the leader of the Special Events division at Varsity in the 80's, she developed additional performance opportunities for cheerleaders as well, including the first UCA All Star trip to London for the New Year's Day Parade in 1985.
After 43 years, Kris retired from her role as Executive Vice President at Varsity Brands and the Executive Producer of the National Championships on ESPN.
Robert Olmstead was the founder of the United Spirit Association (USA), the west coast camp and competition organization widely recognized as the creators and promoters of the ``West Coast Style`` of cheerleading and dance.
Coming from a family of vaudeville entertainers, it was perhaps no surprise that Robert Olmstead would be skilled at walking the high wire, twirling the baton, leading marching bands, and paving the way for today's cheerleaders and dancers. While in college, he served as the drum major for both the San Jose State and the University of Santa Clara bands. In 1948, a new football team in San Francisco called the Forty Niners asked the well-known band leader and twirler to produce halftime shows for their games. Robert formed the 49ers Majorettes, the first NFL female performing group that incorporated dance and props, like pompons. This group became a forerunner of today's dance-drill teams.
In 1950, Robert and his wife, Edith, decided to hold a camp to train the 49ers Majorettes for the upcoming football season. Over the next 40 years, Robert and Edith Olmstead created California Specialty Camps, which in 1976 became the United Spirit Association. The curriculum grew to include some of the first training programs for cheerleaders, songleaders, drill teams, drum majors, mascots, lettergirls, and tall flags.
Expressing a philosophy that was ahead of its time, the USA camp curriculums were based on the idea that every student should feel a sense of accomplishment and success and student activities were an important vehicle for teaching leadership skills and enhancing self-esteem. He believed that every camp should provide a positive experience where ``Number One Means Everyone.``
Robert posthumously received the Organization of Spirit Industry Providers (OSIP) Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007.
Former Ohio State University cheerleader and UCA Instructor, Kraig Tallman was Varsity Fashions' first full-time designer. Kraig revolutionized the look of cheerleaders everywhere in the late 70's. Replacing uniforms that were often locally made and boxy in design, Kraig's new custom fitted uniforms, bold color blocks, and unique athletic striping reinforced the idea of cheerleaders being not only ``cool`` and trendy, but athletes in their own right. Kraig was also instrumental in the design and development of Varsity's numerous award-winning catalogs, which helped introduce cheerleading to a broader, mainstream audience.
Kraig's designs brought a sense of the excitement and sophistication of the fashion world to cheerleading. His influence can still be seen today in almost all of the latest designs that are worn by school and all star cheerleaders. Kraig's talents and vision transformed spirit fashions, and many of the classic looks he created are also still worn by many of today's top collegiate squads.
In 2001, the Ohio State University Board of Trustees established the Kraig A. Tallman Memorial Scholarship Fund in Cheerleading, endowed by gifts from his friends and family in Kraig's memory to supplement the costs of a student athlete who is a member of the varsity cheerleading squad.
Boyd was first hired by NCA as a cheerleader for Midland High School. He worked summers and weekends for NCA for four years. In 1974, Kline became one of the five founders of UCA, joining Jeff Webb in raising money to start the company. After graduating from SMU, Kline had a successful career in the oil business. In 1989, Kline moved to Memphis to become Varsity’s General Manager and to head up Varsity Spirit Fashion. He assembled a team to support Kraig Tallman’s unique designs and to source and produce new stretch fabrics, lettering styles and color matching to reflect the increased athleticism in cheerleading.
Under Kline, Varsity built relationships with some of the world’s most respected names in sports including Nike, Capezio and Body Wrappers. Kline eventually returned to Texas to re-enter the oil business but left behind a dedicated team that has changed the look of cheerleading and dance uniforms.
George Gallup first met Jeff Webb in the early 1980s, when Gallup served as the president of TVS, a syndicator of American sports programming. After accompanying Jeff to a summer cheerleading camp, George catalyzed the growth and popularity of cheerleading by televising the UCA National High School Cheerleading Championship on TVS. In the mid-1980s, George left TVS to become the Vice President of Programming of a small, new network called ESPN. At ESPN, George continued to televise the National High School Cheerleading Championship, helping the competition reach over one million homes.
After four years at ESPN, George went on to fill several important roles within the media industry, including two VP titles at NBC (one in radio and one in television). He eventually went on to create Gallup Broadcasting, which produced everything from jump rope competitions to dog shows. George ran Gallup Broadcasting until his mid-seventies. Now in retirement, George is still active in the industry as a consultant.
Jerry Starnes started his cheerleading career at Jacksonville State University. He became a UCA instructor in 1975 and immediately stood out for his creativity; campers knew him (and loved him) for his ability to come up with creative boogie chants. Soon after becoming an instructor, Jerry became an incredibly influential choreographer, helping to revolutionize the cheerleading routine. In fact, Jerry collaborated with Kris Sheppard on several landmark routines, including the first cheerleading routine to music. He even selected the first background music – the “Rocky” theme. In 1977, Jerry also assisted Kris in choreographing the first college demo. Jerry eventually moved to Salt Lake City, but continued working with Kris Shepherd to collaborate on college demos for years to come.
Lance and Carol Wagers
Lance and Carol Wagers both embarked on their cheerleading careers during college (at the University of Colorado and Oklahoma State University, respectively). In the early 1970s, Lance and Carol worked as camp instructors for National Cheerleaders Association under founder Lawrence Herkimer.
Through the years, Carol made her way up the NCA ranks from Instructor to Head Instructor to Personnel Director to Senior Vice President. Lance spent 22 summers working for NCA, and eventually took on a full-time position alongside Carol. When Herkimer retired, Lance took over as the President of NCA.
Together, Lance and Carol expanded NCA to include more summer camps and regional, national and international competitions. The Wagers are responsible for introducing cheerleading to several countries, and modernizing it in many others. In the early 1990s, Lance and Carol also created the All Star industry and executed the first All Star National Championship in Dallas, Texas.
The two were honored at the 2014 USASF Awards Gala and received The Pioneer Award for their part in developing the All Star industry.
Robert Tisdale began cheering as a high school student in San Angelo, Texas, and shortly thereafter went on to cheer at San Angelo State University. He attended his first NCA cheerleading camp at Southern Methodist University, where he was recruited to the NCA team.
Robert worked as an NCA camp instructor from 1967 to 1972. In 1974, Robert joined Jeff Webb to assist with the launch of a new company, the Universal Cheerleaders Association. Robert ran the UCA office for years, overseeing camp management and university relations to extend the reach of UCA camps nationwide.
Robert has held several important roles at Varsity Spirit, handling everything from accounting to fashion production to facility management. Today, he serves as Varsity Spirit’s Vice President of Human Resources.
During his 12 years with UCA, Randy Harris was instrumental in the development and direction of UCA’s one day cheer clinics, which introduced UCA’s unique instructional programs and coaching style to thousands of cheerleaders. The clinics functioned as the building blocks to UCA’s regional competitions, which then helped launch the nationally televised National High School Cheerleading Championship.
Randy is best known as the first elite male partner stunt performer and instructor. He was the role model for college cheerleaders throughout the country and originated many teaching progressions still used today. Randy, with various partners, performed the Liberty and the Liberty Heel Stretch for the first time.
Randy was the fifth person to join UCA as a full time employee and thus had multiple responsibilities with the young company. In addition to teaching camps and clinics, Randy was involved in the production of the first three uniform catalogs for Varsity Spirit Fashion.
In 1967, Karen Lawrence joined NCA Staff as a camp instructor. Karen worked as an instructor for three summers and excelled in many other company positions throughout her years with the company. In 1997, Karen became the Senior VP of Marketing for NCA & NDA and used her knowledge and love for the brand to shape the company’s message and image.
During her time at NCA & NDA, Karen was an influential member of the original board of directors for USASF, the USASF National Advisory Board, Worlds Advisory Board, Worlds Scholarship Committee and many more. Many people recognized Karen as the face of NCA and a go-to person for teams and coaches across the country. Karen was also instrumental in building NCA’s long-time relationship with the Make-a-Wish Foundation.
Tony Jaeger’s cheerleading career began during his high school years in Louisiana, where he cheered for the New Orleans Saints. A gymnast and dancer by trade, Tony went on to participate in cheerleading and gymnastics as a student at Louisiana State University. Tony joined NCA staff in 1971, where he worked four summers alongside fellow instructors Greg and Jeff Web. In 1974, Tony helped to create the Universal Cheerleaders Association. When cheerleading began to expand internationally, Tony spent nearly five years overseas introducing and teaching cheerleading in Japan and Germany.
Through the years, Tony has stayed involved with the UCA/Varsity Spirit family while also taking his love of performing to the stage. He spent 10 years on Broadway, scoring roles in Tap Dance Kid, Cats and The Music Man, to name a few. Today, Tony resides in New Orleans, Louisiana and brings his spirit to the skies as a steward for JetBlue Airways.
Becky Gennings’ cheerleading career began during her high school years in Jonesboro, Arkansas. In 1977, Becky was recruited to join the Universal Cheerleaders Association as a summer camp instructor. She spent the next two decades working UCA summer camps. After college, Becky accepted a part-time job as a Staffing Director at the UCA office in Memphis. Her part-time position quickly became full-time, as she played an instrumental role in recruiting and training staff, as well as expanding the national championships.
In 1994, Becky was promoted to her current role as Vice President of UCA. Under her leadership, UCA has experienced exponential growth. In 2002, Becky also took a lead role in developing UCA’s relationship with the National Federation of High School State Associations, one of UCA’s most valued partners.
Michael Boylan began working with Varsity Spirit in 1981, as a producer of the UCA high school and college championships. Michael worked closely with the Varsity team for over 20 years, all-in-all producing over 100 televised events for Varsity. Michael had no prior experience with cheerleading when he started but quickly became an expert, learning the vernacular and becoming intimately familiar with the format of competitive cheerleading. Michael’s work on the championships played a key role in transforming cheerleading into the international phenomenon it is today.
Additionally, Michael is the former CEO of WJCT Public Broadcasting in Florida, where he produced programming that reached millions of viewers every single day.
A skilled gymnast and athlete, Scott Elliott started his cheerleading career at Amarillo High School in Texas. His natural talent was quickly noticed by the Universal Cheerleaders Association, and he was recruited to join UCA staff in 1975. After cheering at Ole Miss and Murray State, Scott moved to Memphis to work for the company full time. Scott wore many hats during his time at Varsity Spirit. He managed UCA’s high school and college programs, helped run the national championships and even served as Varsity Spirit Fashion model for some of the early catalogs. Scott also spearheaded many safety initiatives and eventually helped launch the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators (AACCA).
Melanie Berry began cheerleading during high school in Bartlett, Tennessee. In 1980, she competed at the inaugural National High School Cheerleading Championship, where her team took third place. After high school, Melanie joined the Universal Drill Pom Association, now simply known as the Universal Dance Association. She spent 11 years as a UDA instructor and served as a part-time assistant to Kris Shepherd during her college years at the University of Memphis. In 1988, Melanie joined the company full-time to assist Varsity Spirit’s special events division.
Melanie currently serves as Varsity Spirit’s Senior Vice President of Special Events. In this role, her accomplishments are numerous. Melanie had a lead role in the launch of the UDA National Dance Team Championship, expanded Varsity Spirit’s parade and performance opportunities, and has fostered a long-term relationship with the Walt Disney World® Resort.
Gilmore Williams began his career with NCA in 1965. Gilmore brought with him an extensive gymnastics background, which he used to help cheerleaders improve their tumbling skills. During his time with NCA, Gilmore also developed the very first cheerleading safety manuals and cheerleading publications: Tumbling for Cheerleading (which Gilmore co-wrote with Lawrence Herkimer) and Mini Tramp for Cheerleading.
In 1974, Gilmore joined Jeff Webb to launch the Universal Cheerleaders Association. He served as the first gymnastics instructor for UCA and taught summer camps and gymnastics clinics for cheerleaders nationwide. After several years with UCA, Gilmore started his own gymnastics program in Midland, Texas, where he still lives today.
Kim Williams joined the Varsity Spirit team in 1988 as a UCA instructor. After spending six years on UCA staff, Kim accepted a position as a Varsity Spirit Fashion Representative in 1994. During her years as a Varsity Rep, she created Varsity Spirit Fashion’s first training program and became one of Varsity’s first two sales trainers. In 1999, she assumed responsibility for Varsity Spirit Fashion’s product line.
For fifteen years, Kim served as Varsity Spirit Fashion’s lead designer, creating hundreds of designs worn by millions of cheerleaders and dancers worldwide. Under her stewardship, Varsity Spirit Fashion introduced numerous technical innovations, including MotionFlex®, Powerfit®, ActionWeave® and sublimated uniforms.
Kim currently serves Spirit Fashion’s Vice President of Design and continues to uphold the quality and style of Varsity Spirit Fashion’s products.
Greg Hicks started his cheerleading career as the Cougar mascot for the University of Houston. Greg quickly made a name for himself within the mascot world, as he was twice recognized as an “Outstanding Mascot” by the NCAA. After graduating from the University of Houston with a degree in Education, Greg joined the Universal Cheerleaders Association as a mascot instructor. After several summers of working UCA summer camps and coaching at the University of Houston, Greg joined UCA full time as the manager of the Southwest Region. Greg’s success as a manager inspired UCA to expand to six regions nationwide, a structure that the company has kept to this day.
Greg was also a key contributor to many other UCA endeavors. He led coach and employee training, event coordination, and served as head judge for numerous national championships.
Michael Olmstead grew up in the cheerleading business – he attended his first camp, conducted by his father Robert Olmstead, as an infant. After graduating from Princeton in 1972, Michael began expanding his family’s camp business throughout the West Coast.
In 1976, Michael co-founded the United Spirit Association to help school groups – cheerleaders, songleaders, drill teams, tall flags, and lettergirls – work together to promote school spirit. In the late 1970s USA began working with UCA, providing mascot and dance curricula for UCA camps throughout the Midwest and South.
In 1996, USA joined Varsity Spirit. Michael now runs his own event and production company, e2K Events and Entertainment. Today, e2K is one of the most successful production companies in America, with clients ranging from Pixar to Microsoft to the Wall Street Journal.
Like many of our Legends, Dianne Nettles came to UCA right out of Ocean Springs High School in 1981. During her time on UCA staff, Dianne was known as the girl that could do it all; she could tumble, jump, teach any class – high school and college – and never miss a beat. She worked for eight summers before joining the team full time as Varsity Spirit Fashion Apparel Representative. For over 20 years Dianne has consistently provided her customers with amazing attention and care. She has also served as a national championship winning coach at Ocean Springs High School in Mississippi.
Sharon was the head cheerleader at the University of Arkansas at the time when she decided to try out for UCA Staff. Sharon worked many years for UCA as a high school and college camp instructor before she began her full-time career as the UCA Staff Coordinator. One of Sharon’s most notable contributions to Varsity Spirit was during her time as the Director of the National High School Cheerleading Championship, when she created the idea of what is known today as “The White Jacket”. She moved on to helping develop the first UCA College Cheerleading and Dance Team National Championship in Hawaii, as well as the first UDA National Dance Team Championship is Cypress Gardens. Sharon was instrumental in the early ages of staff coordination and travel assignments, and developed the system of how “staffing” is done today.
Gary was an Athletic Trainer at Middle Tennessee State University when the early days of UCA Camp took place at MTSU. He saw a need for cheerleading camps to be equipped with proper athletic training personnel, and shortly thereafter, Gary helped in the development of Varsity Camp Administration. Gary was the original Varsity Camp Administrator, or “Red Shirt”, to combine the jobs of on-site medical personnel, as well as setting the tone at camp with an up-beat environment provided by music. Gary played an instrumental role in Varsity Spirit’s Red Shirt program for thirty years, ranging from serving all of UCA’s College Spirit Camps, working Special Events and training new Red Shirts each year.
Kim was highly influential in the early years of UCA as one of the main Top Girls. She originated notable Top Girl technique, as well as introduced flipping dismounts from partner stunts and pyramids. Kim’s contributions in the development of elite skills supported her success at The Ohio State University when she was captain of the first National Champion team at the UCA & UDA College Cheerleading and Dance Team National Championship. Kim’s contributions in Top Girl development laid the foundation for skills that are still taught at Varsity Spirit Camps today.
Laurie Ryan Woodward
Laurie’s contributions in the dance world and Varsity Spirit are numerous. She was a Song Girl at USC, which led to her to become a Songleader for United Spirit Association. Her success as a dance icon contributed to her becoming the Director of the Songleading program at USA for several years. Laurie modeled in the very early years of Varsity Spirit Fashions, and eventually, founded the San Francisco 49’ers Gold Rush Cheerleaders. Laurie has made a lifetime out of her passion, contributions and achievements in the dance community, and still serves as an icon in the dance world today.
Bill was the head cheerleader at Indiana University at the time when he became an NCA instructor. Since then, he was completely invested in building up NCA. Bill served as NCA’s first full-time State Director, and rose through the ranks to Senior Vice President. He is invaluable in Varsity Spirit’s Training and Education division today as the Senior VP of Sales Support. Bill has dedicated his career and life to support and build NCA, and ultimately, strengthen the Varsity Spirit brand.
Liz was the captain of the Rutgers University Dance Team at the time when she started teaching as an instructor for UDC, what is known as UDA today. Liz was instrumental in high school and college summer camps, special events and choreography. In addition to serving as the Director of Choreography for High School and College programs and special events, Liz is also known for being the longest running head instructor for the college program for 23 years. Her passion for dance helped spread it to the global level as she helped to develop the internationally recognized judges, coaches and rules training courses that exists today. Today, Liz is the Varsity International Director of Dance, and her impact in the dance community continues to grow.
Pauline was a cheerleader at LSU and the New Orleans Saints at the time when she began as an instructor for UCA. Pauline’s contributions to UCA College Camps were infinite, as her elite top girl and basket toss skills paved the way for the skills that exist today. Her contributions in the performance of elite top girl skills supported her success at LSU when she was captain of the first National Champion team at the UCA & UDA College Cheerleading and Dance Team National Championship. Pauline returned to LSU to develop the LSU Tiger Girl program, and continues to be the Spirit Director and Head coach today.
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