Pittsburgh Steelers Cheerleaders
While the Pittsburgh Steelers currently lack a cheerleading squad, they hold the distinction of having one of the first one in the NFL.
The Pittsburgh Steelerettes debuted the year that John F. Kennedy became president (1961), but they would subsequently disband in 1969.
While they have been gone for well over 30 years, their contributions to the sport are still recognized by their modern-day counterparts.
Historic Moment in Cheerleading
In 1961, William V. Day was vice-president of Robert Morris Junior College (now Robert Morris University) and entertainment coordinator for the struggling NFL franchise known as the Pittsburgh Steelers. The small junior college did not have a football team of its own, so the student body had adopted the local pro team. The Steelers, meanwhile, did not have a permanent home, and they often struggled to sell tickets at venues such as Forbes Field and Pitt Stadium.
To generate fan interest, Day decided to hold tryouts for the co-eds at Robert Morris Junior College. Those selected would represent their Pennsylvania hometowns and cheer on the Steelers every Sunday. Selections were based on gymnastic ability, personality, coordination and appearance, but the girls were also required to maintain a 2.0 grade point average.
By the spring of 1961, the Pittsburgh Steelerettes were ready for their debut. The first squad was comprised of Virginia Davis, Margaret Hensler, Barbara Bishop, Linda Walters, Sandy McEachran, Margie McCormick, Eleanor Lineman (captain) and Dolly Merante. In addition to their modest yellow and black uniforms, the Steelerettes also wore yellow hardhats on their heads. These would be dropped by the 1963 season.
The Steelerettes were forbidden from interacting with the players unless posing for media photographs. If this rule was broken, it was made clear that the offending girl would immediately be dismissed. This policy was implemented by Art Rooney, the owner of the team. Until 1964, the girls also had to pass a written exam which tested their knowledge of both football and the Steelers organization.
Pittsburgh Steelerettes – The Early Years
Following their debut in 1961, the Pittsburgh Steelers cheerleaders proved to be a big hit with fans. By 1962, they were doing interviews on weekly television shows and receiving substantial newspaper coverage.
That same year, twirler Carole Sematic was added as The Steeler Strutter, and a group of male Robert Morris Junior College students were introduced as The Ingots. The young men assisted the Steelerettes in their routines and fired a cannon in the endzone after each home team touchdown. The cannon was eventually discontinued after it was fired a little too close to player Buddy Dial.
Pittsburgh Steelers Cheerleaders Changes
In 1964, the squad was given a choreographer. More girls were added to the squad, routines were spiced up, and the subdued uniforms were replaced with boots, a tight-fitting vest and one-piece black leotard. During this time, more than one girl left in protest over the changes to the squad.
This experiment was ended halfway through the season, and the choreographer was dismissed. The girls only received tickets to the game as compensation for their efforts, and no money was available to replace their new, form-fitting outfits, so each girl bought patterns and material and sewed a new costume for the second half of the season.
End of the Steelerettes
While the Steelerettes projected a wholesome image, other pro cheerleading squads were beginning to emphasize sex appeal. Nowhere was this personified more than the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. At the same time, plans were underway for the Steelers to finally get a stadium of their own, and Robert Morris Junior College now had its own football team and cheerleading squad.
With the Steelers continuing to struggle, and the more liberal social attitudes towards cheerleading, Robert Morris Junior College and the Rooney family made a mutual decision to disband the Steelerettes. Following the 1969 season, they would never cheer again. Since that time, the team has never had another group of cheerleaders.
Steelerettes – The Rest of the Story
Robert Morris Junior College would continue to grow, eventually achieving University status in recent years. The down-on-their-luck Steelers would soon turn things around, winning Super Bowl titles in 1974, 1975, 1978, 1979 and 2005.
And what about the nearly sixty women who cheered their hearts out on chilly Sundays at Forbes Field and Pitt Stadium? Their first reunion took place in September of 2001 at Heinz Field. It was such an overwhelming success that the former Steelerettes now get together every few months for lunch and backflips down memory lane.