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Minnesota Football: #TBT Gophers Invented Cheerleading

Programming note: generally I try my best to not include Northwestern in Gopher history articles. It is my professional opinion that there is nothing historic about jNW. Therefore it is regrettable there is a brief mention of the Wildcats today, many apologies.


The 1898 football season was not a great one for the Gophers. Jack Minds serving his only year as the U of M football coach lost three game straight, Grinnell (really? ya'll lost to Grinnell?), Iowa State, and Wisconsin. Times were tough in Dinkytown after coming back from Madison having suffered a 28-0 pounding. The Ariel (the student newspaper precursor to The Minnesota Daily) was FED UP. First writing a scathing editorial about how much Madison loves its university, and then asking its readers to help solve Minnesota's perceived lack of school spirit.

The 1898 Gopher eleven. Via MNHS.

On November 11, 1898 a meeting was held at the chapel to discuss plans for the upcoming Northwestern game. President Cyrus Northrop suggested having Yell Leaders and according to the account of the meeting in The Ariel six students were elected Yell Leaders. Most famous of them is Johnny Campbell who today is widely recognized as having invented cheerleading.

Medical student, Johnny Campbell.

The six student Yell Leaders- Campbell, Wickersham, Kotlaba, Luby, Armstrong, Litzenberg were all in charge of organizing chants in their various sections. The match  was a victory, and The Ariel reported it being the most fun any of them had ever had at a game. Possibly because of the cheer leading, but more likely because of the low level rioting that happened after the game.

Co-eds, who brought their dog(!) to a 1898 Gopher football game. Via MNHS.

From the Minneapolis Tribune, Sunday November 13, 1898:

CELEBRATING THE VICTORY.There was a high old time at the University of Minnesota campus last evening.Tho enthusiasm among the students over the notable victory with Northwestern had to have some sort of vent, and the. result was a scene such, as only some of the old alumni members can remember. The principle feature was a bonfire...

While a party of the boys was busy feeding the flames a crowd of others went over to the college building and broke up the meeting of the literary society, and caused a rather previous adjournment of the law class.


At any rate, Yell Leaders were born, and would do their part home games. Including during a blizzard that caused the early end to the the last game of the 1898 season. Campbell and about 1,000 students stuck around and chanted "Rah! Rah! Rah! Ski-U-Mah! Hurrah! Minnesota! Hurrah!" despite the cold and snow.

U of M cheerleaders in 1941. Via MNHS.

Some final bits.

  • In 1904 cheerleading at the U of M was made official, and Campbell was crowned "rooter king".
  • In 1923 women were first allowed to be cheerleaders, although it was still a male dominated activity for many more year.
  • As for Johnny Campbell he attended every home game for 42 years, yelling the whole damn time.