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Lawrence Herkimer, The Father Of Modern Cheerleading, Dies At 89

Three cheers for Lawrence Herkimer, who did more than anyone to transform cheerleading into an art, a science and a multi-million dollar business.

He died of heart failure on Wednesday in Dallas at age 89, according to his family.

Herkimer, who was frequently referred to as the grandfather of modern cheerleading or simply "Mr. Cheerleader," invented (and patented) the pompom. He came up with an iconic cheerleading leap, the "Herkie jump," that remains a staple of cheering squads to this day. And, most importantly, his camps — the first opened in Huntsville, Texas, in 1948 — train tens of thousands of would-be cheerleaders a year.

In honor of Herkimer, cheerleaders and would-be cheerleaders have been lighting up social media with photos of themselves doing the "Herkie":

According to American Profile, the famous leap was nothing more than a happy accident. "I threw my arm up in the air to try and get some height on my split jump," Herkimer recalled in 2013. "It really wasn't planned."

The New York Times writes:

"Herkimer had been a scholarship student and head cheerleader at Southern Methodist University in Dallas when, after graduating in 1948, he borrowed $600 from a friend of his father-in-law's to begin what would amount to an American cheerleading industry, setting up shop in his garage.

"His first cheerleading camp attracted 52 girls and one boy; in his second year, enrollment climbed to 350."

One of the companies he founded, the National Cheerleaders Association, is responsible for training 150,000 cheerleaders each year. And the business he spawned eventually achieved sales of $50 million a year, according to the Times.

The NCA adds that Herkimer also "founded the first ready-made uniform company, Cheerleader Supply Company, in 1951 to meet the uniform needs of cheerleaders (currently known as Cheerleader&DanzTeam)."

On the invention of the pompom, Herkimer explained to American Profile: "When I first saw color television, I thought: 'We need something colorful on the field.' So I got the idea to put crepe paper streamers on a stick."

"When I see thousands of my pompons at the Macy's [Thanksgiving Day] Parade or at a big game, it's still a thrill," he said.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.

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