Uncovering the history of Huskers’ cheer: former UNL cheerleader Debra White writes book about supporters

Uncovering the history of Huskers' cheer: former UNL cheerleader Debra White writes book about supporters

Debra White, author of “The Spirit of Nebraska” is alongside Tom Osborne, who wrote the book’s foreword.

Debra White never planned on attending college, becoming a college cheerleader, or writing a book. Her life’s journey as a Husker inspired her to document her story.

White attended the University of Nebraska – Lincoln from 1976 to 1980, majoring in fashion merchandising. It was her time as a cheerleader that led her to write the book “The Spirit of Nebraska”.

Despite not being part of the high school cheerleading squad, White tried out and was part of the Huskers team during his sophomore year. Students could only be on the cheerleading squad for three years, as freshmen couldn’t take tests, White said.

As she reflected on how lucky she was to have these experiences, her gratitude for college and the cheerleading program inspired her to give back.

“No one has ever researched the history behind the cheerleading squad,” she told the Star-Herald. “It all started in 1903 with two male cheerleaders. For a long time, it was all male. I was surprised by that.”

After this research, White decided to start a project to find everyone who has supported UNL since 1903. The project took three months and she continues to add to the list annually. The university’s athletics department has the list published online.

“As I did that, I realized in 2003 that it was going to be 100 years of joy at the University of Nebraska,” she said.

She had a weekend party and reunion dinner, a football halftime show to celebrate 100 years of joy at UNL,” she said.

This UNL archive group photo depicts the UNL Yell squad from 1977. Former UNL cheerleader Debra White will be in Scottsbluff in September after publishing a book on the history of college cheerleading.

After the centenary celebration, White decided to share his research findings with Huskers fans. After 15 years of work and five years of writing, she published “The Spirit of Nebraska”.

“I tried to reach as many traditions as possible,” White said of the book. “I just came across all these different topics at the beginning, when the university opened its doors and the traditions and why of everything. That’s what I found interesting and that’s how I approached the book.”

The book touches on several traditions, but the one that stood out the most to White was in 1917.

“There are several traditions, but this is the one closest to my heart,” she said. “Colleges had the first female cheerleaders in or around 1922, but UNL had three girls in 1917. I love that. It shows how progressive the university was.”

Some of the cool pieces of the story talk about when the cheerleaders brought a shirted calf onto the field for two games, the evolution of mascots, baseball being the first sport and cycling being the most popular and the Huskers changing from the Knights of Gold for the Scarlet and Cream Huskers.

The cover of Debra White’s book “The Spirit of Nebraska” with a foreword by Tom Osborne.

As the fall football season begins, White will be in Scottsbluff for a meeting with the authors. Lied Scottsbluff Public Library will welcome White on September 23 at 6pm. During the event, White will share her personal journeys and her path that led to the publication of her book. The foreword was written by longtime Huskers coach Tom Osborne.

“It’s a vision that anything is possible and following your heart, because I followed my heart and worked hard and made it happen,” she said.

As readers discover a unique history of the Huskers, White wants them to have fun learning about Huskers traditions that they don’t necessarily know about and find the story inspiring and informative.

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