Cheerleaders rah-rah their

Heather Fors

Rah! Rah! Naughty one, Ski-U-Mah! Minn-e-so-ta, Naughty one, Rah! Rah! Rah!
That cheer, shouted by University medical student Jack Campbell in 1898, was part of the repertoire that many men’s athletics department officials pinpoint as the birth of modern cheerleading.
Bedecked in white “ice-cream” pants and a heavy-knit sweater, Campbell roused crowds at Memorial Stadium 100 years ago. But little did he realize what he had started.
After that November game against Northwestern that ended in a 17-6 Gopher victory — and turned around a losing streak — the ambiance and energy of sporting events everywhere forever changed.
And although the costumes, music and stunts have evolved since then, the overall purpose remains.
“The basic idea hasn’t changed: to get the crowd up and yelling,” said Beth Knutson, the University spirit squad coordinator. “It’s just become more extreme.”
The tumbling acrobatics and stunts today’s cheerleaders regularly pull off set them apart from the cheerleaders of even 40 years ago.
“The whole team wasn’t as gymnastic as they are now,” said Lois Roberts — Lois Magnuson when she cheered for the Gophers in the early 1950s. Roberts is considered the oldest living female University cheerleader.
Roberts explained that since women didn’t have any designated sports besides intramurals, it’s not surprising that females didn’t start cheering at the University until about 1949 or 1950.
Although the cheerleaders of the 1950s weren’t hoisted into the air to form elaborate human structures, their routines did include round-offs and flips using small trampolines. But most of the stunts were accomplished by the men, since they also were involved in the gymnastics team.
But the very first cheerleader, Campbell, did no elaborate stunts or tricks; he merely taught the crowds how to yell.
Only reacting when something spectacular happened, the crowd simply didn’t know how to cheer, according to a 1979 article in Minnesota magazine. The extent of their support was yelling remarks such as, “You’re all right,” and “We’re all right.”
The team was facing quite a losing streak when a call for help circulated around campus. Campbell and other interested fans nominated “yell leaders” and wrote a fight song.
They incorporated the word “ski-u-mah,” which was created at the University in 1884. Some say “ski” was a victorious Dakota battle cry; American Indian Studies officials said that’s a myth. The term “U-mah,” is supposed to connote the U-niversity of Mah-nnesota.
Bill Braddock, 81, the oldest living male cheerleader, remembers seeing Campbell in the stands at the University football games long after Campbell graduated.
Today, the Four-Rah Locomotive cheer, usually led by the Hook ’em Cowboys, are just history in the minds of University pep squads, Braddock said.
Wielding a cane with a University banner, Campbell still led the crowds in various locomotive cheers as a fan before he died. The Four-Rah Loki, the Big Loki and the Small Loki, all started off as slow chants and got faster, louder and more intense.
As one of the Hook ’em Cowboys, a group of guys from the stock yards of South St. Paul, Campbell and his friends were often leaders of the crowd.
Braddock follows in the footsteps of Campbell, a life-long Gophers fan. Braddock still ushers for the Gopher’s home games as a volunteer. He has witnessed the sport’s evolution since 1932 when he ushered at Memorial Stadium — “the old brick house,” he called it — as a Boy Scout.
Braddock also cheered during his time as a student at the University from 1936 to 1940 and is still a cheerleader at heart. During the games, the fans in his section can hear Braddock’s yells and cheers throughout.
He still even thinks like a cheerleader.
While some cheers just don’t hit it off with the crowd, Braddock said if the cheerleaders cashed in on the phrase “Go, Go for Gold,” it would be an instant success.
But no matter what the technique, cheerleaders old and new agree that the appearance of the rousing activity has changed dramatically.
Outfits that used to be handmade or improvised are now mass-produced. Practices that used to last for a couple hours a week now stretch for about three hours a day. Where the crowd used to be right next to the field, they now sit loftily above the players and the pep squads in the Metrodome. The University’s large student and alumni population also fights group cohesion.
While the signs, megaphones and other props make it a little easier to get attention, the person is still the most important part of cheerleading.
The purpose of cheerleading used to be solely to get the crowd involved. Today Division I cheerleading competitions also are a great motivation to continue the sport.
“I love having that goal of being number one in the country,” said Melinda Theisen, a cheerleading captain and speech communications and youth studies senior.
But don’t get the wrong idea, Theisen said — cheerleading isn’t just about competitions. Getting the crowd involved is still a major part of the sport.
“Even though we compete, we still need to support our team,” Theisen said.