Jan. 26, 2012
Cheerleading isn't just alive at the University of Minnesota. It was born here.
In 1898, after three straight losses by the University's football team, a student named Johnny Campbell made the then-radical suggestion that he lead organized cheers to root the players on to victory. A few weeks later, he put his idea into action during a home game between Northwestern and Minnesota.
When the University won by a score of 17-6, much of the credit went to Campbell and his squad of "yell leaders," as they were initially called. The yell leaders were the first organized cheerleading team in the nation. Soon, no self-respecting college or university could do without its own cheerleading squad.
Today, this proud tradition is carried on by the University's Spirit Squads, more than 70 dedicated student-athletes who each devote an average of 700 hours per year to practices, games, special appearances, cheerleading camp, and competitions. Like student- athletes in other Gopher sports programs, members of the Spirit Squads - the Cheer Teams, the Dance Team, and Goldy Gopher mascots - must maintain high academic standards and carry a full credit load in order to participate. Unlike student-athletes in other sports, however, Spirit Squad members have no "down" season, practicing and cheering virtually year-round.
All that hard work and dedication has paid off, both in the indefinable boost the Spirit Squads offer the Gopher football, hockey, wrestling, and men's and women's basketball teams and in the honors and awards earned by the Spirit Squads. In the last decade alone, Goldy Gopher has twice been named NCAA/ESPN Mascot of the year and the Cheer Team and Dance Teams have consistently been positioned as one of the top 15 teams in the country. 2003 represented the best year in program history, with the Dance Team capturing the 2003 UDA National Championship and the Cheer Team taking home 2003 UPA National Champion honors!
"In the past 10 years, our work has become much more like a sport," says Beth Frees, events coordinator for the Spirit Squads. "There's a training staff, a strength and conditioning staff, and our cheerleaders practice four days a week. They also support our other sports teams and end up probably putting in more time than athletes in any other program."
The student-athletes of the Spirit Squads give a lot to the University - and to state as a whole. They boost enthusiasm for Gopher sports, help unite the community, and provide a positive symbol of our collective pride in the University of Minnesota.