SI Vault
 
ONCE IT WAS ONLY SIS-BOOM-BAH!
Pat Ryan
January 06, 1969
But now vocal empathy is the kick as collegiate cheerleaders turn on everything from familiar neoclassic fight chants to libidinous exhortation, high-camp hip and unsanctified soul
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
January 06, 1969

Once It Was Only Sis-boom-bah!

But now vocal empathy is the kick as collegiate cheerleaders turn on everything from familiar neoclassic fight chants to libidinous exhortation, high-camp hip and unsanctified soul

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

—is considered a "soul" cheer in the Southwest and as such represents a step toward the social-awareness movement in cheerleading. "Soul is the big thing in this part of the country," says Jim Hart, a former SMU cheerleader. "Soul cheers are often dialect cheers. It is amusing to hear crowds at Alabama and Ole Miss using them, but I suppose they are accepted naturally."

Hart is a cheerleading instructor working for the National Cheerleaders Association, which is based in Dallas. The NCA was begun in 1952 by Lawrence Herkimer, a cheerleader in the days of Doak Walker. Today Herkimer has a $1.25 million business selling cheerleading outfits, megaphones and pompons and running cheerleading and song-girl clinics in 43 states. Probably a quarter of today's cheerleaders have been to a Herkimer clinic at one time or another.

There have always been sectional variations in cheerleading, Herkimer says. The Big Ten and Ivy League schools are traditionalists. Illinois schools have been using the Indian-inspired

Oskee wa wa
Skini wa wa

since Lincoln won the big Blue-Gray Game at Gettysburg.

The junior colleges in California, having no tradition to build upon, have been the primary innovators of new cheers. "Four years ago in California they began making personality the prime consideration in cheerleading," Herkimer says. "Now they have moved into an era of specialization. There is a man on a mike, and he is an entertainer. Cheerleading has become show biz."

The soul cheers that are the fad in the Southwest came by way of California, but each place they arrive at seems to embellish them or present them in some new personalized form. The soul cheers have an infectious quality about them. During the opening game of the 1968 football season at the University of New Mexico, Sam Johnson, a Negro prelaw student, started leading soul cheers in the stands. Lobo students and the school's regular cheerleaders picked up his beat, and Sam was invited down front to lead cheers. He was careful not to compete with the regular cheering squad, but when fraternity groups in the stands would shout, "Give a yell, Sam," he would begin the leader-response chants that sound revivalist:

Sam: I got it.
Crowd: What?
Sam: You need it.
Crowd: What?
Sam: It's in mah eye (he points to his eye).
Crowd: Oh yeah.
Sam: It's in the sky.
Crowd: Oh yeah.
Sam: It's on the roof.
Crowd: Oh yeah.
Sam: Honest troof....

The variations and the length of the chant were almost limitless. The beat became faster and faster, and the cheer usually ended in hilarious confusion and a shout of "Our cool team, cool!"

In addition to their rhythm, soul cheers often have an extra-athletic message. The Lobos, for instance, have one that goes:

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13