Watch Remembering the Legend-Herkie 2015
The summer of 1979 stands out to me for only reason: NCA camp.
Our coach promised us: the Westboro High School cheerleading squad (yes, that's what we were called) that we were going to spend one week at a college to learn "from the very best."
It was not mandatory to attend although highly encouraged but for some reason that escapes me now, I was the only one of the 18 member squad who attended.
It didn't matter, I couldn't wait to go.
More than the new cheers and moves that I learned, I remember watching the NCA Camp instructors on the very first night do their thing, in crisp red, white and blue uniforms, as All American as they come, both boys (my first time seeing, never mind watching "male cheerleaders") and girls were the "ideal of cheerleading."
They were beautiful and tanned and toned and smiling and jumping, stunting, flipping and yelling in a kaleidoscope of cheer like I had never seen before. Most were only a few years older than me but with what was left of my post-adolescent, 16-year old insecurities, they were rock stars and I wanted to be just like them.
At the end of the week when I received a ribbon for "best" of something, it became my medal of honor for the remainder of my high school years (I think I even brought it to college where it was tacked to my wall for at least a semester). I don't remember now what the ribbon was for, but on that last day of camp, in the steaming hot gymnasium full of cheerleaders from high schools all over New England, to have my name called out and welcomed to the center of the room I felt, more than anything, these NCA instructors had given me a confidence to be "me" somehow. To not worry about what others thought, to give it my all, and forget about any left over teenage angst. My jump was my best jump, my yell was my best yell, maybe not the best in the gymnasium or on the football field, but the best for me.
There are thousands of similar stories out there about NCA camp. Week-long experiences that stay with a teenage girl or boy for their lifetime.
Thirty years later, I had a different but even more of a major life experience as a mother when my daughter Rachel competed at NCA's All Star Nationals in Dallas. As an undefeated Youth 2 Showstopper, her team came in second place by less than one point. But that was just the begining of the experience that continued for the next year as Rachel and her team used the second place trophy as motivation that "you can never practice, work or give enough" when you want to be the best. She and her team returned a second year and won those coveted NCA jackets. That moment was redemption that took a year to accomplish.
But the first and only time Rachel has cried at a competition happened the next year when her team returned a third time and she won a second jacket. She later told me she cried because at the beginning of the season she never expected her team to be good enough to go back to NCA, never mind win. It was the most overwhelming feeling of her 12-year old life and one I believe she will never forget.
That's what one man did for just me and mine when he started NCA in 1948. Lawrence "Herkie" Herkimer (called "the father," "the grandfather," "the legend" of cheer depending on the author) took his jumps to heights that became the definition of cheerleading. Camps became clinics, became competitions, became an industry.
His passing this week has been the focal point of the cheer world and yesterday's memorial was a testament to the motivation of the man as so many former NCA staff and instructors attended (Photo left).
In a video produced by "Herkie 1948" on the NCA website (available above) it's obvious that the feeling I had at my NCA Camp and that my daughter had at NCA Dallas was no accident but a montra instilled by Herkie.
"If your students perform the best, you are the best," you can hear him say in the voice over of 57 years worth of life-moments captured in stills.
"That’s what really counts. It’s not how sharp you are or how many backflips you can do...If you can’t teach them something you are no good as an instructor," he says.
"You are not just performer you’ve got to go much further than that."