A legend of the cheerleading world has passed away. Lawrence “Herkie” Herkimer is known today as the father of modern day cheerleading. He was born in 1925 and is credited for creating the Herkie cheerleading jump, which was named after him, and also received a patent for the pom-pon which he created alongside the spirit stick. Herkimer passed away on July 1, 2015.
Herkimer was a cheerleader at Southern Methodist University (SMU) and started his first cheerleading camp in 1948. Herkie is the founder of the National Cheerleaders Association (NCA) which began with just 53 participants. The following year, enrollment in his camps had soared to over 350 participants. By the 1950s most high schools had created a cheerleading squad. Before long, he gave up his teaching career with Southern Methodist and took up cheerleading full time. His camps employed about 1,500 instructors teaching cheerleading across the U.S. along with his company – Cheerleader Supply Company that was started to supply cheerleading teams with uniforms and camp clothing.
By the 1960s, just about every high school and college in the country had cheerleaders. Professional cheerleading was introduced around this time under the National Football League and its leader was the Dallas Cowboys debuting during the 1972-73 season. They were first widely viewed at the 1976 Super Bowl X game, changing the face of cheerleading as a profession.
In 1986, Herkimer sold his cheerleading company for $20 million to the BSN Corporation. In June 1988, BSN Corporation sold NCA to the Prospect Group with Herkimer staying on to run the company which was bringing in approximately $50 million in revenue by 1990.
With the invention of color television and a need for a visually appealing device for cheerleading, Herkimer invented the pom-pon and was granted patent 3,560,313 from the US Patent and Trademark Office in 1971. Herkimer is also credited as the inventor of the spirit stick after awarding a spirited team at one of his camps a piece of a tree branch that would later become mass produced as the infamous Spirit Stick that teams and camps across the world know and are still awarded today.
NCA was later acquired by Varsity Spirit Corporation and became a part of the Varsity Family which was started by Jeff Webb, the founder of UCA, who was at the time a general manager for NCA.
The sport we know as cheerleading today was largely influenced by the efforts of Lawrence Herkimer. Without his ingenuity and influence in the industry, we wouldn’t have the sport that we know of cheerleading today. Herkie was a true legend and pioneer of the sport of cheerleading.