On Ben's Farm

Cheering Pioneers
UNH was a trendsetter in cheerleading routines for college football games

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UNH cheerleaders, photo courtesy of University Archives

The Harvard football fans were on their feet, applauding and cheering wildly. It was the opening game of the 1939 football season and their team was beating New Hampshire soundly—the final score would be 46-0. But it was not the game on the field that captured their attention. It was the UNH cheerleading squad, which for the first time included women.

"The hit of the day was 11 pretty jitterbugging coed cheer leaders from Durham," reported The Boston Globe. In what seems today a remarkably nonpartisan gesture, the coeds led the Harvard fans "in the loudest Regular Harvard Cheer ever heard on Soldiers Field."

Cheering, and cheerleading, started early at the New Hampshire College of Agriculture and the Mechanic Arts. In 1893, students put together the first football team and an athletic association as well, which in 1894 appointed a committee to compose the first cheer. The result was "Rick-a Chick-a boom, Rick-a Chick-a boom, Rick-a chick-a, Rick-a chick-a, Boom, boom, boom!"

"When there is a game, come and yell. Systematic cheering for the team means touch-downs," said an article in the October 1897 issue of the New Hampshire College Monthly.

UNH cheerleaders, photo courtesy of University Archives

In the late 1800s, "systematic cheering" was a new concept, and the notion of having a leader for cheering didn't occur to sports fans until 1898, when a University of Minnesota student named Johnny Campbell jumped out in front of the stands in Minneapolis and led his fellow students in a cheer at a football game. At New Hampshire's young college, Wallace Purrington '06 was the first official cheerleader, and like other early cheerleaders, he improvised. Cheerleaders improved their routines by waving their arms, doing jumps and flips, and adding music. When an especially successful new stunt was created at one school, it traveled through the intercollegiate circuit like a stadium wave.

UNH kept pace. In 1919, the students declared that the lack of a college band at the football games was "noticeable." A marching band was soon formed. In 1934, Joe Symonovit '36 and Leon Ranchynoski '36 added acrobatics to their cheering routine. And finally, in 1937, women joined the fun; first as part of a special coed cheering section in the stands, and then out in front with a varsity squad called the Pepcats. UNH's two original coed cheerleading teams, the Pepcats and a freshman team called the Pepkittens, lasted until 1968.

In 1939, the Pepcats and the band won additional bragging rights when their "Jazz cheer" started a trend. Sanford Freedman was at the game that day and provided an eyewitness account for the Globe. "The [cheerleader's] Lindy [a dance similar to the Charleston] which lasted fully several minutes was accompanied by a cadenza (hot lick if you will) on a TRUMPET, not a cornet, during which everybody would rise and inhale, bursting out with "Fight!"—just that one word at the end. It was awe-inspiring and I am ashamed to say, being a Harvard man myself, that before the afternoon was out we were brazenly copying the cheer, sans female impedimenta, of course. We played six other teams that season before Yale, and each one was so impressed with the routine that they copied it on the spot, without even the courtesy of waiting a few days." ~

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