#TBT – The History of Cheerleading and The Start of UCA

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Cheerleading has been around for over 120 years. Many things have evolved over time, but the spirit that drives us all has stayed the same for the past century.

The origin of cheerleading can be traced back to the 1880’s. Shortly after intercollegiate football was organized, the University of Princeton started an all-male pep club. In 1898 the University of Minnesota football team was on a losing streak, so a group of students came together to lead the crowd in chants and cheers. This team of 6 men became known as “yell leaders.”

From there cheerleading grew, but it wasn’t until 1923 that females were allowed to cheer. Due to WW II, girls became more active in cheerleading and were soon the majority of the participants.

Fast forward to 1974, the Universal Cheerleaders Association (UCA) was founded by Jeff Webb, a former cheerleader at the University of Oklahoma. UCA taught a curriculum based on partner stunting, pyramids, private coaching and team building. During its first couple of years, the company operated out of Webb’s apartment in Memphis, Tennessee. Instructors were hired from collegiate teams and 4,000 cheerleaders attended Varsity’s 24 camps in the Midwest and the South during the summer of 1975.

The next year, the cheer routine was born! UCA instructors Jerry Starnes and Kris Shepherd put music with cheer skills during the opening day of a college training camp. During the 1976 summer camp season, UCA introduced the liberty and tossing stunts. This completely revolutionized cheerleading and laid the foundation for the skills we see today.

In 1979 the first high school cheerleading championship was held in Memphis, Tennessee. State winners from eight states were invited to compete in the championship.

During the 1980’s cheerleading established new safety guidelines and banned the use of mini trampolines. These new regulations made safety a top priority and created a universal standard for cheerleading. The popularity of cheerleading competitions grew during this decade, as well. UCA held their first National High School Cheerleading Championship at Sea World in 1980 and in 1983 ESPN started broadcasting the event.

In 1988 UCA introduced cheerleading training programs in Japan and the United Kingdom, and later in other parts of Europe, Latin America, Oceania and Africa.

By 1995 the National High School Cheerleading Championship moved to the Disney World Resort in Florida. It remains the host of the competition and has become the cheer mecca of the United States.

Today, UCA continues to provide top-notch training to cheerleaders all over. The original purpose of cheerleading is still relevant now – cheerleaders remain the key to raising spirit in their schools and communities!

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