This story comes from the Texas Monthly archives. We have left it as originally published, without updating, in order to preserve a clear historical record. Read more here about our archive digitization project.
Cheerleading didn’t start here in Texas. The first nonsense rhyme shouted through a megaphone, the first sprawling jump performed on the sidelines by someone wearing a school jumper, did not happen on our soil. The part sports, part down show was born in the 1890s at the University of Minnesota, of all places. It does not matter. Texas has taken cheerleading to new heights, inventing, among other things, training camps, professional cheerleaders, and halftime high kickers.
Autumn girls in Texas are just as storied and respectful as their stadium counterparts. After World War II, cheerleading ceased to be an all-testosterone activity and became the brass ring of Texas girlhood, sealing a student’s popularity, even her marriage. With so much at stake, it’s no wonder a Texas cheerleading scandal grabs national attention every few years — most recently last fall, when four Hempstead High School cheerleaders became pregnant.
Each year approximately 175,000 people – almost all women – can claim the title of Texas cheerleader. Even more prance around in sequined dance troops or drill teams at halftime. That adds up to a whole industry in itself. Texans spend about $150 million each year on cheerleading squads and drill and dance teams. How did splitting, clapping, and cartwheeling become such big business? Find out in the following pages, which trace the evolution, highs and lows, of the state’s strongest pastime. Ready? OK!
The Original Pep Boys
The first cheerleaders in Texas collegiate history are members of the freshman A&M corps in the early 1900s, who – unlike upperclassmen – cannot bring dates to games. See the article : Carolina Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey, Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank among nominees for the NFL Salute to Service Award. Wearing white security uniforms to set themselves apart, the shout leaders, as they soon become known, entertain the crowd; but when they get a little too much attention from the female visitors, the disgruntled juniors and seniors decide to take the job – and the white uniforms – for good.
“That’s the way I jumped to get up very high. I didn’t want to point my toes. I didn’t want to look like a ballet dancer. Read also : How to watch ‘Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team’ season 16 finale tonight with or without cable. So I turned my teeth right up.” — Lawrence Herkimer (below) of the “Herkie,” a jump that he first showed in the early forties while at North Dallas High and Southern Methodist University. The jump – performed with one leg extended and the other bent back – will be duplicated, or rather approximated, over and over again on fall Fridays across the country.
Wine, Women, and Going Long
To prevent people from leaving their seats at halftime to sneak a drink in the parking lot, Kilgore College president B.E. Masters, envisions a group of girls dancing for the entertainment of the fans (an ogle is better than a nip). In order to realize his dream, he employs Gussie Nell Davis, who had created the Flaming Flashes in 1928, a performance group at Greenville High School. On the same subject : Kelli Finglass talks about “Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team” Season 16. In the fall of 1940, Davis shows his red-white-and-blue Rangerettes in red-white-and-blue uniforms. An instant success, the deeply broken group were later described by a magazine writer as “champions of the high kick and the back wiggle”; countless imitators followed, using everything from parachutes to slides to small oil derricks as props for half-time entertainment.
The “Boom” in “Sis-Boom-Bah”
Lawrence Herkimer holds his first cheer camp at Sam Houston State University in 1948. His 52 pupils, all female, practice chants, jumps and pyramids, and attend seminars by English and speech teachers. Four years later, Herkimer is fully devoting himself to the limber life, quitting his physical education job at SMU to start the National Sailing Association with a $600 loan. Today more than 200,000 high school and college cheerleaders risk laryngitis at NCA camps each year, and the association grosses an estimated $60 million annually. As well as organizing training sessions and competitions, the NCA offers 6,000 items in its catalogue, including pom-poms (one million sold last year).
In 1955 University of Texas cheerleader Harley Clark invents the Hook’em, Horns sign to parallel the Aggies’ Gig ’em gesture. Clark, who goes on to become a state judge, says of his two-finger inspiration, “If you flash it in Italy, it means your wife is sleeping around on you. Elsewhere it means mother dog. . . . I never realized it would be the subject of so much interest.”
“Suh, Those Are Fightin’ Words!”
In its October 1950 issue Esquire magazine misrepresents a photo of the Kilgore Rangerettes with, “These Bow soon cheering trees are typical of Oklahoma’s great spirit — and more!” Enraged, the famous precision drill team burns copies of the magazine in protest. Embarrassed, the editors apologize, admitting, “Esquire should have known that such beautiful women could only have come from the state of Texas.”
Don’t Even Ask What “Spread Eagle” Means
Lawrence Herkimer, inventor of the cheerleading crepe paper version of Cousin It, changes the spelling from “pom-pom” to “pompon” in the fifties after he learned during a cheerleading clinic in Hawaii that “pom-pom” is a phrase for the kind of thing that young Hawaiian women are not supposed to know anything about.
In 1967 Tyler Junior College’s Apache Belles drill team acquires a new member: the nation’s first woman. Dame Bird Johnson, on receiving her, said: “After seeing all these trim figures, I’m sure my membership in the Apache Belles would have to be honorary.”
The People Speak
More than half of the 2,800 students in Crystal City public schools, first graders through high school seniors, walked out of classes in 1969 – for 28 days – to protest the selection process for high school cheerleaders. Although 85 percent of the town’s students are Hispanic, the largely English faculty traditionally selects only one Hispanic cheerleader. This walk for the right to protest is a pioneering event in the birth of the Raza Unida movement.
In 1967, after three failed votes that year, Baylor students finally approve cheerleading, 1,194-996. With that win, A&M remains the only university in the state where cheering is actually a man’s job. It still is; when senior journalism major Melissa Martin runs for A&M yell leader in 1990, claiming she could do yell duty as well as the men, the student body votes her down.
Gimme an O! Gimme a W!
Emphasizing the self-discipline of her Rangerettes, the legendary Gussie Nell Davis describes in a 1971 documentary how the drill team usually stand in front of a retaining wall lined with thorny hedges, which stab their legs as they smile Davis said: “We’re all standing there thinking as the camera clicks, ‘Beauty knows no pain.'”
Tit for Tat
The Texas Cowgirls, formed by a group of sour-grapes Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders cut from the squad, stole the show in the December 1978 Playboy with their topless parody of the famous Cowboys Cheerleaders poster. The Cowboys forbid the group from selling the photo as a poster, but they can’t stop them from trying to extend their fifteen minutes by starring in car shows and wading in a swimming tank at a mall to promote the movie Jaws II.
They All Have Hearts of Gold Too
In 1979 a film about the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders scores a Nielsen rating of 33, which means that at the time it was the second most watched television film of all time. Thinly plotted and more corner than perotism, The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders stars miniseries queen Jane Seymour. The story is about a female reporter who goes undercover to get the dirt on America’s girlfriends – until she realizes that despite the jiggling, they’re all wholesome, serious women down at home.
And Then There Was Cleavage
“When I came to Dallas, we had competitions to choose our group from among the local high school cheerleaders. . . . but they didn’t seem to get a good response from the crowd. . . . We wanted our cheerleaders to be pretty, sexy in a clean way. . . ” —Tex Schramm, on the 1972 creation of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.
“When Kilgore College and Tyler Junior College play each other in football, there are arguably more people in the stands to watch the girls at halftime than to watch the game: the football teams are junior college- foot, but the women are big. alliance. What the fans see at halftime is the Alabama – Oklahoma of the dance-drill world.” – Edwin “Bud” Shrake, Sports Illustrated, 1974
Dallas Dumps Debbie
“I will not allow this organization to be disrespected and exploited when we have worked so hard to preserve our dignity.” —Suzanne Mitchell, Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders director, after spending hundreds of thousands of dollars and a year and a half from a legal battle to force the 1979 porn film Debbie Does Dallas to remove all references to the cheerleaders.
In 1976 the play Vanities, by Texan Jack Heifner, begins a long, award-winning run off Broadway. The comic production, starring Patricia Miller (below), follows the lives of three Texas cheerleaders from high school glory days through post-college disillusionment. A sampling of her rah-rah humour:
Mary: I think we should make an announcement that anyone sitting in the card section tonight has to do their job.
Joanne: I died when they said “Yes Team” and it turned out to be “Yes Meat”!
Let Us Play
“[Cheerleading] is an illusion spirituality that transcends the physicality of the gym floor. Cheerleaders are converted to a more positive lifestyle. Talking to them encouraged me to reach further to my own true potential. I began to capture their spirit.” – John Hawkins, gushing in his 1991 book, Texas Cheerleaders.
Steve Keathley (below), the Aggies’ leading rusher in 1988, suffers a separated shoulder that requires surgery when he is tackled by Fish (a freshman corps) after A&M’s 50- 15 over Texas Tech. The post-winning tackle (and well tackle) is an Aggie tradition, but overzealous fish continue to pile up after Keathley hits the ground. In a display of true Aggie grit, Keathley leads more cheers before heading to the hospital. “Once you start practicing yelling, you don’t stop until it’s over,” he argues.
High-kicking to Hollywood
Tyler’s Apache Belles appear in True Stories, a 1986 film by Talking Head farmer David Byrne. As contestants in a talent show in fictional Virgil, Texas, the Belles score a whopping 26 seconds of screen time, following some dueling auctioneers.
Nothing to Cheer About
In 1988 the Texas Education Agency orders the Arp Independent School District to name all eighteen contestants to a junior high cheer squad or forfeit more than $180,000 in state funds. Two black candidates had been eliminated in tainted elections, where the judges changed marks and referred to the weight of various women.
We Want Our Hot Pants
Fourteen Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders temporarily resign in protest in 1989 because they believe new owner Jerry Jones is trying to make them sex objects by changing their midriff-baring outfits into Laker Girl-ish halter tops and Lycra cycling shorts. Clearly Jones had not read the cheerleaders handbook, which warns, “One should always remember that what she never feels is what she does for the uniform. That’s what the outfit does for her.” Jones gives in, and the classic outfit stays.
So That’s How They Survive on $15 a Game
“A lot of [Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders] ended up being supported by rich men. Most of them had ‘jobs’ where they did nothing. . . . The owner of a Dallas radio station liked to take care of the girls. . . . Four, five hundred [dollars] here and there, just to see them with him. And, of course, to come near his house.”—From Deep in the Heart of Texas in 1991, fun and said by a trio of sisters who were all in the squad: Suzette, Stephanie, and Sheri Scholz.
In 1991 Channelview housewife Wanda Holloway tries to undermine her teenage daughter’s cheerleading competition by arranging to get rid of the mother of one of her competitors. She is guilty of solicitation of capital murder (a judge would later quash the conviction). HBO premieres an original film based on the case, The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom.
Feels Like Team Spirit
In the late eighties, Texas A&M’s male cheerleaders abandon one of their signature traditions: squeezing their crotches to show the football team they share his pain as he goes for a touchdown or a field goal . Although the squad still gathers behind the end zone, the shout leaders now squeeze their knees or hips moderately.
Okay—Beauty Knows Some Pain
“There will be times you remember being uncomfortable. . . . You might throw up at rehearsals or think you can’t dance another step. . . You will remember dancing in the rain, and having hairspray dripping – stinging and burning your eyes. But, you’ll also remember that it’s worth every minute of discomfort.”—From an essay given to the new Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders by director Kelli McGonagill.
It Was Something In the Gatorade
“I know one of them, and she got a note from the doctor saying it would be good exercise for the baby.”—Hempstead High School student during the Great Cheerleader Epidemic of 1993, when four Hempstead cheerleaders find themselves in the road family. School administrators only allow the one who has had an abortion to cheer, until the National Organization for Women and the American Civil Liberties Union step in and threaten legal action unless all the girls be restored.
Texas Cheerleading Hall of Fame
Aaron Spelling TV producer: SMU (cheerleader).
Phyllis George former Miss America: North Texas State University.
Lynn Wyatt Social Association: San Jacinto High School, Houston.
Susan Howard Actress and National Rifle Association booster: Marshall High School.
Carolyn Farb association: University of Oklahoma.
Heloise suggests a columnist: the drill team at Alamo Heights High School, San Antonio.
Alice Lon ex “champagne girl” Lawrence Welk: Kilgore Rangerettes.
Barefoot Sanders federal judge: UT.
John Connally late governor: Floresville High School.
George W. Bush gubernatorial candidate: Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts.
Kay Bailey Hutchison U S. senator: UT (1963 championship season).
Rick Perry Texas commissioner of agriculture: A&M.
Garry Mauro Texas land commissioner: A&M.
Red Duke’s famous doctor: A&M.
Has a DCC ever dated a player?
Ann Lux was a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader when she started dating Will Middlebrooks, who was a professional baseball player for the Boston Red Sox at the time. But it wasn’t like they met by chance at a party. As KETR reports, the two have known each other since childhood!
Which player did Holly fraternize with? The “no fraternity” rule is strict for the cheerleaders, but it is broken from time to time. A former Cowboys cheerleader tells the story behind her epic encounter with Danny White, in a photo deleted for 25 years.
Has a Dallas Cowboy cheerleader ever dated a player? Ann Lux was a cheerleader for the Dallas Cowboys who started dating Red Sox player Will Middlebrooks. The pair had known each other since they were children, and both would have plenty of success in their careers.
Has any NFL player married a cheerleader? 4 Elizabeth Barry And Alex Smith He has also played for the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs in the past. He’s had quite a stellar career, and he’s got people talking many times. But when he married a cheerleader, he really made the headlines.
Are DCC allowed to date players?
Can a DCC be married? DCC is a part-time position; squad members have full-time jobs and/or attend college full-time. Several are married, including one who is the mother of a seven-year-old daughter. It’s a diverse group of young women who come together to make up ‘America’s Sweethearts’. And it’s a laborious process to make the team.
Has an NFL player ever dated a cheerleader? Rob Gronkowski met Camille Kostek, who was a Patriots cheerleader while he was playing for the team, in 2013 at a Thanksgiving charity event. They announced that they were in a relationship in 2015 and that they have been together since then, although they are not married at the moment.
What are the rules to be a Dallas cowboy fan? What does it take to become a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader?
- Dance Technique.
- Personal Appearance.