Varsity Spirit Corp. is an American organization that sells cheerleading and dance apparel, trains cheerleaders and dancers at educational camps and hosts cheerleading competitions. The company is best known for organizing and successfully staging large-scale cheerleading activities within the United States.
It has origins which trace back to 1948. Since its founding, Varsity Spirit has been known for its involvement in the cheerleading industry to make it dynamic and popular. In 1980, it hosted the first cheerleading championship called the National High School Cheerleading Championship and as of 2015, three of Varsity Spirit’s national championships are televised on the ESPN Networks, including the National High School Cheerleading Championship, the National College Cheerleading and Dance Team Championship and the National Dance Team Championship. Select divisions are also aired live on ESPN 3.
Varsity Spirit camps train 325,000 cheerleaders from colleges, high schools, middle schools, and all star programs at 1,500 camps sessions around the United States. In all, 475,000 cheerleaders and dance team members compete at Varsity Spirit events.
Varsity Spirit was founded by Jeff Webb, a yell leader at the University of Oklahoma contemplating law school. While working in summers as a camp instructor for National Cheerleaders Association (NCA) with Lawrence Herkimer, he decided to start Universal Cheerleaders Association (UCA). Webb had a vision to combine cheerleading with high energy entertainment and traditional school leadership. He founded UCA in 1974.
Webb used marketing and promotional campaigns to increase cheerleading’s profile. In 1983, ESPN first broadcast eight hours of Varsity’s national championships, a relationship that continues to this day. In 2002, Webb was featured in a USA Today article entitled From Megaphones to Mega-Profits. Varsity worked on driving the development of an international phenomenon that now not only includes millions of young Americans, but also a rapidly growing number of participants worldwide. In 2004, they announced a merger to form the largest partnership in the cheerleading and dance team industry.
In June 2010, Jeff Webb was called upon Title IX Case: Quinnipiac University in the federal trial in Connecticut, as an expert witness to clarify if Competitive College Cheerleading was a Title IX Compliant Sport to allow for the Quinnipiac University Volleyball Team to be replaced by the less costlier Quinnipiac University All Girl Cheerleading Team as proposed by the Quinnipiac University Athletic Department.
In 2011, Varsity merged with Herff Jones, the Indianapolis-based provider of graduation, achievement and educational products and services, such as class rings and jewelry, yearbooks, motivation and recognition tools, and educational products. Jeff Webb was named President and COO in December 2012.
Varsity Spirit requires a Safety Awareness class for all of its more than 350,000 cheerleading camp attendees and worked with the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) to require that all college programs are under the direction of a safety certified coach. For cheerleading safety, it partnered with the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators (AACCA), a nonprofit risk management organization that has certified more than 20,000 coaches from its founding, and is seen as the standard of cheerleading safety. AACCA was founded in 1987 with initial funding from Varsity Spirit.
Since 2006, Varsity Spirit has provided safety audits for several of the NCAA Basketball Conference tournaments, including the Big 10 and others, to ensure the cheerleading squads are in compliance with safety requirements.
The NCAA’s insurance company has only had a single catastrophic injury claim from cheerleading since 2006, when the NCAA partnered with Varsity and started requiring that coaches receive safety training like the AACCA course. Under the new safety program, both participant and coach training on technical cheerleading skills will emphasize learning in a progressive format, as well as on basic safety rules and limitations for games and practice. Training is provided at Varsity Spirit summer camps throughout the country.
The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) developed a Spirit Coaches Education Program in 2007, and selected the AACCA Safety Course as the first course offering. Varsity Spirit’s educational curriculum also provides technical training in the more advanced safety modules presented by the NFHS.
In 2009, AACCA and Varsity Spirit announced stricter safety standards for all competitions, which addressed the proper environment and equipment for cheerleading activity and clarified the requirements for spotters on the competition floor. In May 2010, AACCA released new safety guidelines for elementary, middle and junior high school teams. In 2011, Varsity Spirit covered the cost of the AACCA Safety Course for 200 coaches.
In March of 2011, Varsity Spirit supported USA Cheer as it developed the USA Cheer Safety Council in partnership with the American Sports Medicine Institute (ASMI) in Birmingham, Alabama, founded by Dr. James Andrews, the renowned orthopedic surgeon.
In 2011, Varsity Spirit began “Team Up for St. Jude,” a fundraising campaign to support the children’s research hospital. “Team Up for St. Jude” includes a letter writing campaign and Team Up for St. Jude Game Day events. As of January 2015, Varsity Spirit, through the Team Up for St. Jude Spirited by Varsity campaign, has contributed more than $2.6 million to St. Jude.
The Sparkle Effect is a nonprofit organization that generates cheerleading and dance programs including students with disabilities. Varsity Spirit partners with The Sparkle Effect to provide new cheerleading and dance uniforms to Sparkle Effect teams. As of 2015, Varsity has provided uniforms to 140 Sparkle Effect teams.
CheeReaders was created by Hannah McRae Young to encourage children from kindergarten to second grade to pick up a book and read.
Varsity Spirit created National School Spirit Day in 2009 to share stories and to encourage cheerleaders and dancers to participate in community service. National School Spirit Day was recognized on the floor of Congress in 2014. To date, cheerleaders and dancers have pledged more than 550,000 community service hours. In 2015, National School Spirit Day expanded to all of Varsity Brands, creating America’s Most Spirited High School contest.
In 2016, Varsity Spirit took part in the Varsity Brands School Spirit Awards to honor schools, school groups and individuals who go the extra mile to build school pride, student engagement and community spirit. The awards included sixteen different categories. Each winner received prize money, adding up to $25,000 in awards from Varsity Brands. Varsity Spirit sponsored six categories: Spirit Superstar Award, Spirit of Inclusion Award, Outstanding Student Section Award, Standout Spirit Program Award, Best School Tradition, and Sound of Spirit Marching Band.