Cheerleading History- Before 1898

Cheerleading is a sport that was born alongside many American sports such as American Football, Basketball and even Rugby. As popularity in these sports grew, so did the interest in cheerleading.

In this new series, each week we will highlight a different time period in history and look at how cheerleading impacted American sports, among other developments. Here is a brief look at the early history of American Cheerleading before 1898.

Before 1898

In 1869, an American Football game between Princeton University and Rutgers University, is credited with being the first venue to set the stage for cheerleading. This was an opportunity for spectators to yell, in unison, as a way to motivate the players on the field.

By the 1880’s, the atmosphere of the Princeton Football games, “led to Princeton’s students forming an all-male student “pep club” to lead “cheers” (unified chants and yells) in order to provide support to their team, as well as create a high energy sport environment.”

In 1884, Thomas Peebles, “one of Princeton University’s graduated students, moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota, and introduced the Princeton “pep club” and “cheer” concept to the students of the University of Minnesota.” This concept was widely accepted and was thought of as a great way to motive their players during every game.

Also in 1884, “… two University of Minnesota rugby players John W. Adams and Win Sargent created a “team yell” (SKI-YOU-MAH) to also help inspire their rugby team.  Both rugby players decided to use the word “Ski”, a native America Sioux battle cry meaning victory, and they also added their own word “U-Mah” as a sound representing the University of Minnesota which also rhymes with “rah-rah-rah” to form a team cheer.  Their “yell” became popular throughout the University, and would soon be instrumental to a student named Johnny Campbell credited with inventing what is known today as cheerleading.”

“By 1889 stadium pep clubs, cheers, school yells, and even school “fight songs” continued to develop in many schools & universities around the USA to inspire their sport fans.” The cheerleading we see today on the sidelines can be credited to these all male pep teams and their “team yells”. High school cheerleading is still very similar to this, but cheerleading did take on a more competitive aspect of it’s own later on.

Next week, we will look at the history of cheerleading between 1898 and 1948.

This article contains information from, The International Cheer Union website. Please visit their website for more historical information or other cheerleading related information.


History of Cheerleading. (n.d.). Retrieved September 8, 2015, from