Cheering on tradition

heerleaders have led the Golden Gophers through Homecoming victories and defeats at the University for almost a century.
But not everyone knows that the University is the birthplace of the modern-day cheerleader.
In the fall of 1898, the University football team had just lost three games in a row. Hoping to turn things around, University student Johnny Campbell offered his services as a revel-rouser.
Campbell volunteered to lead organized cheers to boost the morale of the Gophers during their game. Campbell and his “yell leaders,” now known as cheerleaders, cheered the football team all the way to a 17-6 victory against Northwestern.
Laura Lynn Koske, a cheerleader at the University in 1950, said she remembers some of the first cheerleaders coming to games and giving advice. “They’d tell us to keep our heads up and smile and to just have fun. It shows in your cheering, you know,” Koske, 67, said.
Every year, cheerleaders from the past get involved in the Homecoming events, sometimes wearing their vintage uniforms. The veteran cheerleaders often go to the bonfire, enter the Homecoming parade and even go out on to the football field during the game to show their support for the team by leading cheers.
Koske said that seeing cheerleaders of the past at games gives the current squad a sense of tradition.
“When I was a cheerleader, it helped when older, ex-cheerleaders came to the games. It helped me remember why I was there,” Koske said. “I felt like I was a part of history.”
Today, cheerleading has developed to have two missions at the University, said Beth Knutson, coach of the University’s Spirit Group.
One kind of cheerleading is what the fans see on the football field during a game. Knutson said the cheerleader’s goal is to get the crowd excited “before the touchdown, and not just afterwards.”
The other is that of cheerleading squad competition. The style of the cheerleading during a competition involves more of a focus on entertainment.
Knutson said the University’s competitive cheerleading squad was ranked nationally in the top ten. This ranking is determined by team mascot, dance and cheerleading.
Cheerleading and dance squads’ styles change from town to town and from region to region. In some areas the cheerleaders are on the football field to just to have fun; in others it is a serious activity that involves hours and hours of practice.
But Koske said a common thread ties all cheerleaders together. “Cheerleaders care about tradition, sportsmanship and the good of the school.”