Publish date:


Cavorting and mugging, the world's top cheerleading authority (right) conducts clinics for pretty apprentices

Lawrence R. Herkimer, a dark-haired, 36-year-old ex-professor, is endowed with muscle, bounce and some of the most elastic and durable vocal cords to be found in any human throat. He may well go down in history as the Arturo Toscanini of cheerleading and perhaps the Shakespeare, Beethoven, Diaghilev and Pulitzer as well. Described on his own programs and pamphlets as Mr. Cheerleader and the Nation's Cheerleading Authority, Herkimer is the founder of the National Cheerleaders Association (with headquarters in Dallas), the author of several books on cheerleading and the publisher of a periodical for cheerleaders called, aptly enough, The Megaphone.

Herkimer has made up novelty yells, sound-effect yells, rhythmic chants, scoring yells, divided yells, yells for pep rallies, yells for players who foul out in basketball, first-down yells and a free-shot chant. The last goes:

Raise that score, raise that score! Come on, Frank! One point more! It does not have to be Frank, of course; the chant is perfectly adaptable to Tom, Wilt or Theophrastus.

Herkimer, a former physical education teacher at Southern Methodist University and a former Southwest AAU tumbling champion, is also the inventor of a sputnik yell (full of penetrating beeps), a paper-bag yell (the paper bags are exploded by all the team's rooters—hopefully—at the moment of climax) and the supersonic yell. The latter is a cheer in dumb show which purports to be pitched so high as to be inaudible to human ears. At the finish it explodes with a completely audible "Va va voom! Tigers!"—or Bluebirds or whatever. Herkimer has even thought up cheers for wrestling fans ("Let's have a takedown!"), and has made up routines full of gliding motions for cheerleaders on skates who want to get the most out of their hockey team.

Since Herkimer firmly believes that every rhythmic sound must be accompanied by the proper physical motion, he has invented a diffuse vocabulary of waves, glides, gesticulations, contortions, kicks and jumps, of which the best known is the Herkie Leap—a kind of bent-leg split high off the floor.

But above and beyond all his creative contribution to the art of rhythmic encouragement, Lawrence Herkimer is known as a teacher of others. Since he forsook more pedantic instruction to concentrate on cheerleading, he has conducted clinics for upwards of a quarter of a million high school and junior high school cheerleaders. In September, October and November he conducts about four clinics a week (at $500 per clinic), generally in high school gyms packed to the rafters with colorfully got-up junior misses. In the summer he and a staff of 67 assistants hold week-long seminars on various college campuses, where cheerleaders are taught tumbling and are smartly drilled in the execution of the latest flashy variations of the cheering art—novelties like the "Paladin cheer" or the cha-cha-cha cheer. January, February, March and April of each year Herkimer devotes to thinking up new cheers and pondering how to cope with new requirements. In the 50th state, for example, cheerleading is heavily influenced by the native hula dance, and Herkimer must be prepared.

Rhythmic sound and crisp motion, however, are not the whole story in cheering by any means. To get the most response from a crowd, one must have a firm grasp of cheerleading psychology. "Finish those jumps! Don't get prissy!" Herkimer admonishes his pupils. "Make big motions! A dainty motion means a dainty response." To illustrate he says, "Fight, fight, fight," in a falsetto voice, flapping his wrist limply, and the girls whoop in delight at the parody.

"Some cheerleaders claim the crowd isn't cheering," Herkimer will go on. "Why? Because the team is four touchdowns behind, and they're hollering, 'Victory, victory is our cry!' In the stands the rooters are looking at one another and saying, 'Cry is right!' " The girls chuckle appreciatively. "Learn something about the game you're leading cheers for," says Herkimer. "Don't, for instance, say, 'Go, team go!' when the other team has the ball." He advocates wearing skirts of moderate length. "If your skirts are too short, who's going to look at your hands?" he asks. There are more chuckles. "Cheer positively," Herkimer tells his girls. "If somebody boos, get him to stop. At one school there's a pep club of 150 girls. When somebody boos, they all get up and point at him and go, 'Anh-anh-anh-anh.' If you're booing and 150 girls get up and point at you and go, 'Anh-anh-anh-anh' you're going to stop!" Along about that point in a recent clinic, Herkie did his patented leap, and the girls almost collapsed. "He's cute," they told one another.

A fortnight ago in the brightly lit gym of the Ridgely Junior-Dulaney Senior High School in Lutherville, Herkimer conducted his annual clinic for the secondary school cheerleaders of Maryland. Orange letters were strung across one wall proclaiming: "Welcome, cheerleaders," and folding chairs were placed in front of the grandstand to handle the overflow. The girls were variously garbed—in tartans, in white shorts, in red shirts with the shirttail hanging out, in sweaters, jumpers and blouses, in bobby sox and knee sox, in long skirts and short. Some had megaphones and some had pompoms. One group brought a pointer as a mascot, and the host school had a lion.

Wearing a polo shirt, black slacks and tennis shoes, Herkimer bounced out, tested the microphone and began to talk, punctuating his words with gestures and jumps. This over, he led a cheer or two of his own, evoking a wild, enthusiastic response. The sound bounced back and forth against the throbbing gymnasium walls with such fervor that a listener felt like getting up and hitting somebody. "Our cheers have to have more zonk in them, Claire," one young lady murmured to a friend, when the last echo had died. This over, Herkimer called on his pupils to demonstrate their wares.

Leaping, arching, running stiff-legged, kicking in unison, kneeling and pivoting, swinging their arms, doing splits, their faces aglow, the apprentices performed in individual groups and again the gym was filled with sound. "Ready, gang—hit it! We're gonna fight with all our might! We're gonna win this game tonight!" "Hey, gang, let's yell! We got a team, we got a skipper! We got a team that works like a zipper! SMOOOOOTH!" "All set, you bet! Horn and hoof, horn and hoof, stomp the floor and raise the roof! Razzle, dazzle, zizzle, zip! Come on, boys, let'er rip!" "Ready-o, let's go! Clap your hands [CLAP, CLAP]; stomp your feet [STOMP, STOMP]!" One group of five ended their cheer with a debonair Yeah! bringing down their palms in a stiff-arm sweeping motion that looked very cool indeed. They got a big hand.

When this was over Herkimer gave a sample of a type of cheer he didn't approve of. "Poke 'em in the eye, sock 'em in the jaw, take their secretary, raw, raw, raw!" The girls were ecstatic.

At last Herkimer announced he was going to teach the girls a brand-new cheer and called down a representative from each school to help. They swarmed down onto the floor, many with letters on their sweaters, some with megaphones as well. Despite their unmatching appearance, all wore the same fresh-faced zeal on their faces. Herkimer soon had them doing a clock cheer. "Hey, gang, what time is it?" They snapped their fingers like a clock ticking, moving their arms like the hands of a clock. Time for a bas-ket, bas-ket, bas-ket! We want a bas-ket! Six points! "A basket is two points," Herkimer explained patiently. He took a deep breath. "Now let's do it again." He raised his right hand for their attention. "Hey, gang, what time is it?"

And so it went, on and on, until even Ridgely-Dulaney's roaring lion became weary. Casually removing his head and placing it on the stool where he had sat, the lion—now a tired young high schooler—announced: "I'm going bowling."

Blue, brown, knock 'em all down! volleyed and thundered a against the walls of the busy gymnasium.