Whiting, Indiana Featured in Life Magazine

Anthony Borgo September 2019

Cheerleading started at Princeton University, in New Jersey, where Thomas Peebler gathered six men, which formed the first pep club.  In 1865, these innovative students developed and performed the first-known cheer.  At a football game that pitted Princeton versus Rutgers, these seven men led a yell on the sidelines: “Tah rah rah Tiger Tiger Tiger Sis sis sis Boom boom boom Aaaahhhhh! Princeton! Princeton! Princeton!”  Thirty-three years later, The University of Minnesota gets the credit for forming the first-known organized cheerleading squad.  Jack Campbell, a first-year medical student at that time, said that someone needs to lead the yells at the games.  So, the very next game, Campbell was recruited for this position and the rest is history. 

The 1920s saw widespread use of gymnastics and tumbling routines in the cheerleader’s repertoire.  In the 1930s, fans across the country saw cheerleading grow in showmanship and as a form of entertainment during athletic events.  Cheerleading was a sport that was dominated by men in its inception.  However, when large numbers of young men went off to fight in World War II, the ladies were given a shot to root on their teams.  Whiting, Indiana shared the cheerleading spotlight in 1941, when the nationally published Life Magazine did a story on the “Agile Trio.”

Below is a reprinting of the November 10 1941 Life Magazine. The photographs below were supplied by Myron Davis.

To anyone acquainted with mass psychology the superiority of girls over boys in the delicate art of cheerleading is axiomatic. Yet it is only lately, perhaps because of the world’s belated acceptance of co-education, that the girl cheerleader has bounced into her own. Today the drum majorette holds bare-kneed supremacy over U.S. brass bands. Similarly the girl cheerleader is establishing her ability to evoke unprecedented vocal energies from any grandstand she confronts. Teams at ascetic Eastern institutions like Harvard, Yale and Princeton would doubtless be the better for a pretty girl in shorts. Teams at Whiting High School, Whiting, Ind. have shown themselves ready to die for the agile trio shown on these pages.

There is no doubt in the minds of Whiting school-boys as to what makes their State great. When they hear the word Indiana, many Americans think, as their taste and antecedents may dictate, of zinnias, corn, steel, sinkholes, oil of pepermint, tippecanoe, Wendell Willkie or the grave of Nancy Hanks Lincoln. But Indiana’s chief assets, in Whiting eyes, are Joyce Wargo, Gloria Huenger and Nancy Johnson. Even rivals like Hammond High admit that Joyce, Gloria and Nancy have something their alma maters could use.

The peculiar specialty of Whiting’s girl cheerleaders is “rhythm-nastics.” It is a new technique and one which consummately reflects the current epoch. Prior to 1869, sideline support was strictly of the different British school, featuring detached cries of “Hurrah,” “Oh I say, well played,” and “Now then, come along.” But in the first football game between college teams in America - Princeton vs. Rutgers - rooters from Nassau Hall united in a Civil War rocket yell of Sis, Boom, Ah. From this evolved the famed Princeton locomotive: Rah, Rah, Rah, Tiger, Tiger, Tiger, Sis, Sis, Sis, Boom, Boom, Boom, Ah, ‘Stun, ‘Stun, ‘Stun. Yale’s Brekekekex, koax, koax, cribbed from Aristophanes’ frog chorus, was first heard in 1884.

 Inspired by these staccato noises other U.S. schools and colleges developed their own peculiar gibberish. Dignified alumni in their middle years unashamedly screamed such magic phrases as “Ala veero, viro, vum: Boomalatcha; Een dicka, teen dicka, feen dicka fa; and Kalikawhick-kawhack-kazam.”

Now the U.S. seems to be outgrowing these cabalistic syllables. The year 1941 is the year of swing. Whiting’s rhythm-nastics is, as its name implies, a combination of gymnastics and dance maneuvers designed to stimulate vocal endeavor. And Whiting’s cheers, spurning boomalatchas, are inspiring and to the point.

The sequences shown on these pages establish the fact that cheers at Whiting High derive their mood less from the 19th Century huzzah and Indian war whoop than from the 20th Century hotcha motif. Words are suggestive of the dance floor rather than the playing field. The bodily articulations of Joyce, Gloria and Nancy reveal their familarity with conga, rumba tucking and shag.

Joyce, Gloria and Nancy are now seniors. They first flashed their rhythm-nastic technique on Whiting and rival rooters two years ago. Season by season they improved. Imitators naturally appeared on other campuses. But today Joyce, Gloria, and Nancy are undisputed cheer queen of Indiana. If they have a failing it is that grandstands more often watch them than the players giving their all for Whiting on the field of combat.

According to the 1942 Whiting Reflector Joyce, Gloria and Nancy had been perfecting their rythym-nastic technique for five years in a row, starting out as eighth graders. Joining the talented trio was Harry Gurevitz who became a member of the squad a year later. At their farewell performance in February, 1942 they entertained in front of a packed house during a basketball tournament. The fans that night unanimously acclaimed Whiting’s group as the region’s most outstanding cheerleaders.