In the 1950s, Lawrence “Herkie” Herkhimer was a cheerleading camp instructor with a passion for great cheerleading and even better spirit.
In 1954, Herkhimer was coaching a camp when a team he had taken to based on their spirit alone did not win the coveted camp championships. Heartbroken and feeling like the spirit of cheerleading should be awarded as much as the best and cleanest routine, Herkhimer broke off a limb from a nearby tree and proclaimed to the group, “even though you all had an imperfect routine, the spirit of cheerleading was at the highest in this group. Therefore, I am awarding you the first official cheerleading camp spirit stick.”
Thus, the stick we know it as today was born. However, instead of tree limbs the sticks are now plastic, highly decorated, and act as a bigger status symbol than winning first place overall at cheerleading camps across America. Nowadays, they are even in the form of inflatables such as the Universal Cheerleading Association’s banana.
If a cheerleading team wins the stick…or banana… they decorate it with their logo, ribbons, glitter, and more before handing it back to the camp leaders to select another winner.
But there is one rule about the spirit stick that cheerleaders past, present, and future must obey by: never let the spirit stick touch the ground.
If a spirit stick does touch the ground, the squad who had the stick in their possession will suffer a great camp loss. Some cheerleaders even go so far as to say the spirit stick is cursed. Accidents in addition to not winning camp champions have included broken legs, group sickness, music skipping, the wrong uniforms being worn, concussions, numerous dropped stunts, failed pyramids, and more.
To prevent this from happening, some squads enlist a “watchful protector.” The protector is normally the captain or sponsor of the squad who always keeps the stick in their sight. Some squads have even brought a special “spirit stick box” to keep the actual stick from touching the ground. Others bring a spirit stick pillow, an extra megaphone to attach the stick to, or even an inflatable pool floatie.
The legend of the spirit stick is so widely known throughout cheerleading that the Bring It ON! movie franchises even referenced this in several of their movies. In the movie Bring IT ON! In it to Win IT!, a cheerleader from a squad that is not in possession of the stick steals the spirit stick and eventually loses even after performing a perfect routine.
Whether the legend of the spirit stick is truthful or not, the story of the spirit stick is a part of cheerleading that is not going anywhere soon.