It is a little know episode in my history that, for a couple of innings in a Little League game, more than 50 years ago, I was a cheerleader.
I grew up in an era that offered little by way of organized sports for girls. Sporty girls could play in pick up games with boys. Everyone played dodgeball, kickball, and D-O-N-K-E-Y together. But boys also got to play sports that had coaches, uniforms, and playing fields that weren’t the street. They played Little League.
Girls? We jumped rope – something I was actually pretty good at. At my age, I suspect that, if presented with the opportunity to jump in on some double-dutch, I would break my neck. But way back when, I was all about “All In Together Girls,” “High-Low-Medium-Wavy-Walkie-Talkie-Slowly Peppers”, and “Apples, Peaches, Pears and Plums”. I especially liked that last one, as you didn’t “jump out” until your birthday month came. I had to stick with it until December. I loved jumping rope, and never volunteered to be “steady ends”, i.e., someone who turned the rope, but never actually jumped.
That was our sport.
There was something called “Lassie League”, which was organized girls softball, but I had only a vague notion of it. Certainly no one I knew played in it. It was thought to be the province of tomboys, of Protestants. Were Catholics even allowed to play?
But Catholic boys could and did play Little League, and Catholic girls, on a nice spring evening, strolled over to the field off of James Street, where the Ty Cobb Little League still plays, to watch our classmates play ball.
Somewhere along the line, in fifth or sixth grade, a group of us decided that our boys needed cheerleaders. The girls who had crushes on Jimmy M. and Paul M, anointed themselves cheerleaders for National Standard. Those of us who liked Billy M. cheered for Abdow Scrap.
I was happy to cheer for Abdow, as their color was blue, which I much preferred to National Standard’s red.
Our “uniform” was navy shorts, which we fortunately all had, and a white short-sleeved blouse. Since that’s what we wore to school everyday under our green jumpers, that wasn’t going to be a problem.
We practiced a few cheers - “Go, Abdow Scrap,” “Billy, Billy, he’s our man, if he can’t do it, no one can” – and sprung for blue and white crepe paper streamers from Woolworth’s so that we could make ourselves crude pompoms, which we called shakers. Sis, boom, bah!
I don’t remember much about our actual cheering, other than that we didn’t last a game. It was cold. It was boring. The boys probably made fun of us. Or, worse, ignored us. We went home.
It never would have occurred to me to be a cheerleader in high school. My all-girls high school had one sport – basketball (never my favorite sport) – and a couple of my friends – smart, funny girls - were on the team. So I went to most of the games. We did have a cheerleading squad, made up of pretty, dainty, demure, ultra-girly girls with Breck shampoo shiny hair. Needless to say, I did not find myself among their ranks.
I do remember a couple of cheers from college, but they were of a political nature: “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh. NLF is gonna win,” and “The People, United, Can Never Be Defeated.” The uniform of the day was jeans and work boots. No pompoms allowed.
And that’s about as much as I know or care about cheerleading.
Nonetheless, I was interested to read of the death of Lawrence Herkimer, who died last week at the age of 89.
Herkimer, who was frequently referred to as the grandfather of modern cheerleading or simply "Mr. Cheerleader," invented (and patented) the pompom. He came up with an iconic cheerleading leap, the "Herkie jump," that remains a staple of cheering squads to this day. And, most importantly, his camps — the first opened in Huntsville, Texas, in 1948 — train tens of thousands of would-be cheerleaders a year. (Source: NPR)
He also founded a successful cheerleading supply and uniform company, so he may even have supplied the unis for my high school’s cheerleaders. (Our regular uniforms were supplied by Eisenberg and O’Hara.)
On the invention of the pompom, Herkimer explained to American Profile: "When I first saw color television, I thought: 'We need something colorful on the field.' So I got the idea to put crepe paper streamers on a stick."
Thank you, Mr. Herkimer. It certainly sounds like you lived a full, interesting, and successful life. I’m quite certain that, without your invention, it never would have occurred to me, Bernadette, and Susan to put crepe paper streamers on a stick. Sorry there were no royalties for you. Then again, we didn’t even make it through a single game.
Sis, boom, bah!