Remembering Dallas' Lawrence Herkimer, The Grandfather Of Modern Cheerleading | KERA News

Remembering Dallas' Lawrence Herkimer, The Grandfather Of Modern Cheerleading

Jul 6, 2015

Lawrence Herkimer was called the grandfather of modern cheerleading. He died last week in Dallas. He was 89.

Herkimer was cheerleading’s biggest cheerleader.

The guy created a cheerleading empire. He started camps. He founded the National Cheerleaders Association. He even invented the pompom and something called a spirit stick.

But he’s probably best known for what’s called the Herkie jump.

It’s a classic move in the cheerleading world. You can try it yourself by watching tutorial videos on YouTube, like this one: “On 1, you’re gonna hit a high V. On 2, hold. On 3, swing your arms into this X position with your knees bent On 4, you’re gonna jump off the ground, hit a T motion with your arms."

The Herkie jump!

It sounds so … simple??

Herkimer said in a National Cheerleaders Association video that it wasn’t anything fancy – it was just the way he jumped.

“I threw this one arm up real hard and that would jerk this leg up the other way and that’s what my jump looked like,” Herkimer said. "Any time a magazine person or newspaper would come out to my summer camp, I would put three or four real pretty girls and I would jump over the top of them…. And they just started calling it the Herkie.”

The Herkie jump wasn’t just popular at sporting events. It’s been featured in movies and a cheerleading skit on Saturday Night Live.

Years ago, Texas Monthly wrote about Herkimer and declared: “If football is the state religion of Texas, then cheerleaders are its evangelists.” And the Billy Graham of that world, the magazine asked? Lawrence Herkimer.

He was a cheerleader at North Dallas High School and continued cheering in the 1940s at Southern Methodist University.

In 1948, Herkimer launched his first cheerleading camp in Huntsville.

He eventually threw himself full-time into the cheer world. 

“I’ll never forgot my father in law how he thought I was crazy going in the cheerleading business and quitting my job at SMU,” Herkimer recalled. “The biggest thing that satisfaction myself was the last 10 years of his life he worked for me.”

Herkimer’s association trains 150,000 cheerleaders a year -- he sold the empire in the mid-1980s.

He once told The New York Times that he was 60 years old when he did his last Herkie jump.

Since he died, cheerleaders across the country are honoring Herkimer by posting pictures on Twitter and Facebook -- of them doing the Herkie.

Learn more from NPR.

Video: Lawrence Herkimer talks with National Cheerleaders Association