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Original Issue


Two bits, four bits,
Six bits, a dollar.
All for Booktalk
Stand up and holler!

In the last decade, cheerleader has become a disparaging word. It now conjures up the image of a mindless robot. "He's a cheerleader for Vietnam" is the particular phrase, I think, that did the most damage. At the same time, girl cheerleaders have become symbols of gross antifeminism. They are the sexist images of pretty but stupid dolls who not only subordinate themselves and the female role to boys, but do it primarily with their bodies—sort of antiseptic stripteasers. Some years ago a novel about growing up and making out in the bland 1950s appeared. While cheerleading was hardly central to the theme, The Cheerleader was the title selected because it conveyed that image.

And yet, organized cheerleading, which began in 1898 at the University of Minnesota, continues to flourish. Once, when in a basketball story I wrote in passing that Kansas had the best-looking cheerleaders in the country, I was deluged by more contentious mail than I had ever received for saying somebody had the best players or the best coach. Five years later, on a return trip to Kansas, I was introduced as the sagacious man who had made that wonderful appraisal, and everybody remembered me. Many folks still do care about yelling.

Now, to go with cheerleading associations and training camps, we have The Complete Book of Cheerleading (Doubleday, $7.95), edited by L. R. Herkimer and Phyllis Hollander, 285 pages complete. Oh Lord in heaven, is it complete: everything from how to do the Side Banana Jump, the Front-Thigh Stand and Shoulder Bird to tips on making pompons. Plus every known cheer.

Herkimer, the doyen of the art, finds it all very serious stuff. He presents 12 basic principles of cheerleading, 15 standards and nine qualifications, including (No. 5) "high moral character." Frowned upon are jewelry, bad knees and a disposition to "be easily swayed to compromising situations." I think the latter means not to be too obliging in the back seat with the star player after the game. But one crucial admonition is lacking. If only Herkimer, or somebody, could stop the blithering idiots, the country over, from screaming, "We're No. 1!"