Today’s item is related to current sporting events – but no, it’s not a primitive vuvuzela. This cheerleader’s megaphone from 1931 is made of sturdy brown cardboard, with a metal ring on the mouthpiece end. It’s a little squashed, but otherwise it’s in good condition. In ink, on the inside, is the inscription: “Presented by Student Council to Neal Potter Cheer Leader Bethesda Chevy Chase H.S. 1930-1931.” Neal Potter (1915-2008) served on the County Council for many years, and was elected to one term as County Executive. But before his political career, he was a high school student concerned with raising the Pep level at games. (Sorry, political junkies; I’m sure I’ll delve into our campaign collections sometime in the near future.)

Potentially surprising fact #1: In the early 20th century, the activity of cheerleading was dominated by men. The acknowledged “first cheerleader” was Jack Campbell, a medical student at the University of Minnesota in 1898. Montgomery County yearbooks from the 1930s and 1940s show co-ed squads, but over the decades cheerleading came to be seen as a “girls” activity. Towards the end of the 20th century boys started joining squads again, sometimes as a joke, but also as important parts of the increasingly gymnastic and athletic routines.

Potentially surprising fact #2: The sports Mr. Potter and his peers were cheering for at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School (B-CC) did not necessarily include football. Football was considered too dangerous – a Georgetown Prep player was fatally injured during a game in 1895 – and although it was played at private schools in the area, and as a club sport, football teams were not officially permitted by the Montgomery County Public School system until 1944. Instead, the most popular public school sport in the 1920s and 1930s was soccer. (Begin your personal degree of World Cup Fever… NOW!) We might think that the local popularity of soccer is a relatively recent phenomenon, but not so. As noted in the 1940 Richard Montgomery yearbook The Rocket, “soccer continues to be the favorite outdoor sport.” However, once football was added soccer dropped off in popularity almost immediately; B-CC got rid of its soccer program altogether because of lack of interest, and it was not reinstated until 1960. The formation of Montgomery Soccer, Inc. in the early 1970s, and the late 20th century rise in immigration from Latin and South America (where soccer is king), have helped bring the sport back to its former popularity.

Unfortunately, we do not have the B-CC yearbooks for Mr. Potter’s years in our collection; our earliest Pine Tree is from 1936, and it does not mention an organized cheerleading group. Perhaps Mr. Potter was given this megaphone in appreciation for his ‘pro bono’ pep-raising work, as it were.  However, for your enjoyment, below is a photo of the 1943-44 squad from the 1944 Pine Tree.

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