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Illinois Cheer History

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…


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