Just arrived back from San Antonio, TX after viewing the celestial Annular Solar Eclipse.
As a coach, this trip was meaningful as it was also a gathering of a few alumni from the early ‘90s when I coached at Northern Illinois University.
The typical banter of glory days ensued and the common theme of gratitude rushed through me. How can such vivid memories from 30 years ago bring so much joy into the room?
Appearances and obvious changes in physical abilities were the butt of many jokes. At one point, imagine, four 50+ year-olds getting out of a vehicle and all you can hear is grunts and groans — no one in conversation — only to bust out laughing realizing we have arrived to that stage in life!
With families in tow, the gratitude overflowed when I witnessed one alum FaceTiming his son back home in Colorado whilst another alum who was driving, mentally scrambling amongst his three daughters (one of each in H.S., JH and elementary) — all of us in the same car!
Observing these alums, who at one time had their moments that I could describe as parallel to the behaviors of their own kids, brought that extra feeling that my heart was full.
Hints of disciplining, taking moments to be personal and understanding, encouraging cooperation, etc. All full circle to this elder in the group who was their former coach 30 years ago.
As an extra reward from the universe, I found myself conversing with the eldest child in the car who happened to mention seeing a Broadway musical — hello… open door to connect!
So the banter in the car became dominated by this elder and a youngster who are 40 years apart in age, raving about different musicals and favorite songs/moments. I was ready to gift tickets to this young lady to see a show she has been wanting to see that I have already seen twice. What a great-uncle moment! From typical teen introversion within a group of adults, suddenly she came out of her shell with full on expression. As a coach, those moments when you see the switch flip… full heart…
I took the time to send pics and texts to other alums from that same generation met with spirited responses.
Then my gratitude began to feel exponential as I thought about the other alums from that same program of 8 years, then add alumni from the various other programs, teams and staffers that have come through that I have this same connection with.
As one of the most optimistic friends in my circle has recently said to me, “How lucky are we?”…
To know that these bonds can be achieved, I am thankful to experience a full heart and come full circle with so many.
And now to reflect on this visit to another state just to see the “Ring of Fire”, coming Full Circle just feels… Celestial…
Derek A. Ramel
SuperCDA Founder & Executive Director
Cheerleading Historian & Mentor
As mentioned in the previous entry, my coaching & choreography career reaches back 40 years to 1983 with a background before that to 1970 — that’s about 53 years of cheer experience that I am ever grateful to share.
State-wide organized competitive cheerleading in Illinois didn’t become fully realized until the early ‘80s when the Illinois Cheerleading Coaches Association was founded. There were certainly competitions before that offered within the state by individual schools and special events such as the State Fair. But in 1985, a fully-recognized state-wide championship began its journey for a good 20 years before the IHSA came into focus.
I mentioned that I am ever grateful and that sparks a theme I would like to convey to all — there is a lot to be grateful for…
The first several years of the ICCA State Championship, teams were required to present routines with an all-cheer format. Every team would begin with a Chant, then a Leadership Cheer (only jumps allowed to be added), another Chant, an Optional Cheer (stunts/mounts/tumbling allowed), then an ending Chant.
This may all seem foreign to many, but the culture and trends at the time made sense to be the format.
Some things we learned back then included penalties weighing too heavily as there were teams ending up with negative points. For example, a situation in the mid ‘80s found illegal knee drops to the gym floor were -25 pts. A full team of 10 did the drop so they were deducted per infraction = -250 pts. Meanwhile all that they successfully executed was now worth nothing as their ending score was below 0.
Decision-makers realized that too many points were taken away for certain infractions and should not wipe away other non-related scores.
Skills were combined at one point - all tumbling, stunts & mounts together. Jumps were separate.
We now have categories to credit different strengths. Sometimes you don’t get the correct credit BUT we are far from the catch-all bin of skills to be scored altogether.
Mats… didn’t become regulation until a couple years later. We used wrestling mats for many years until carpet-bonded foam strips were commercialized.
Other happenings to be grateful for include the fight to incorporate music in routines. I say fight because the arguments at board meetings got heated. In the early ‘90s, only two board members dug their heels in and pushed for the future. I am grateful to Terry Aebischer (Highland) for also speaking up back then as we two were met with a lot of opposition and neutrality. Arguments from naysayers included “our Poms will be mad bc using music is their thing” or “it will be too much to think about”.
The next chapter in Illinois’ cheer history involves basket tosses. In the early ‘90s, a small group of concerned administrators advocated for tosses to be banned — understandable coming from those who witnessed bad accidents. Tosses were certainly gone for one season.
How did we get them back? We had to show that there were more numbers of safely executed tosses and coaches who knew the proper techniques. It drew attention to the administrators that they themselves should provide more support to cheer coaches and look upon the athletic activity with a more sport-like lens.
[In the interim, as a coping mechanism and expression of protest, one team lined up before entering the floor all holding weaved baskets that they threw over their heads after they were announced then they took the floor. We had choreographed a ripple of basket trophies with each flyer gesturing - one illustrating “where is it?”, the center shaking an index finger “no no no”, and the last shrugging shoulders and a facial expression of “I don’t know” - all to the ovation from the knowledgeable audience]
The following year basket tosses were reinstated.
Also in the old format, Appearance used to be scored including an inspection of fingernail length - not kidding… at line-up before running onto the floor, teams would have a ritual of showing hands then flipping them over (synchronized) as part of the rehearsed protocol at competitions.
So here we are in the ‘20s and we are grateful to have what we have. Here’s a shout out to our grass roots, our state-wide development, the advancement of the sport and the continued drive for excellence today.
We are a state that is one of the strongest in the country for competitive cheerleading.
Be ever so PROUD! And be ever so GRATEFUL…
Updated: Oct 12
Derek A. Ramel
SuperCDA Founder & Executive Director
Cheerleading Historian & Mentor
Greetings ALL! This blog has finally come to fruition after many years being encouraged to do so. What a great way to share as much as I can in a focused environment for interested enthusiasts to reference!
This comes off the Coaches’ Conference at Oak Forest H.S. on Oct 1st, where I was able to share Creativity by going through my career and pulling inspirations to get everyone’s juices flowing. With championship successes from 1983-2023, my timeline actually stretches back to 1970 as a tag-along mascot when I was 4 years old. It has truly been a lifetime in cheerleading!
One point I strongly urged was that Creativity should come from the soul and should be an expression of you, your team and for the audience. The natural reaction from an onlooker is the reward well above any critique.
In the 50 minutes I had to share, speaking as fast as I could and throwing out as much info as possible, the time was filled with so many root inspirations and creative concepts. ‘70s-era stunts, visual floor movements and old-school preps for jumps… all that can now be used as unique splashes today.
It was also great to incorporate history to educate how things came to be and get a greater understanding of what has become standard and what was left behind (but also remain as inspirations for today).
For the next conference, maybe I can offer Marathon Creativity considering we only tapped a fraction of my career span. Coaches could come in and out of several sessions to capture however much they’d like.
A mentor of mine once said that her philosophy for cheerleading is to “be creative — do what you can do. This is leadership.”
Creativity IS leadership….
Creativity outlasts any scoring opinion. Fulfill the needs, obligatory elements — then take everyone on a journey that YOU lead.