Kim Gage felt like razor blades were digging into his shoulders and hands.
It was 1979 and Gage (’81 Phys. Ed.), a cheerleader at Washington State University, knew his team had the wrong shoes for doing stunts and rousing the Cougar faithful. The tread of the Nike low-top Senorita Cortez shoes might be great for walking, but they didn’t work for holding up other cheerleaders.
Gage was one of six men and six women on the cheer squad from 1978–80. As cocaptain of the cheer team, along with Susan McKenna (’80 Comm.), Gage wanted to get some better shoes for the increasingly athletic cheerleading team. He asked men’s basketball coach George Raveling to connect him with Nike, but Nike didn’t have cheer shoes…yet.
Gage didn’t catch the cheerleading bug at WSU. He became the first male cheerleader at Central Kitsap High School in Silverdale. Gage followed his brothers Scott and Kevin to WSU. Their sister Melissa joined WSU cheer the year after Gage. He joined the cheer squad his junior year and says it must have been destiny: Central Kitsap has the same fight song and mascot as the Cougs.
“I just love football and sports,” Gage says. “At WSU games, the cheerleaders would go ahead of the football team and I would tumble down the field and find myself on about the 10- or 15-yard line, then wander off the field because I’m so dizzy.”
After graduation, Gage was student teaching and working with WSU Athletics. He was asked to contact Nike for the shoe order, and he worked with Nike rep Juli Millard. It was an opportunity to bring up the cheer shoe problem.
“I explained to Juli that Nike’s shoe was not a very good shoe, and did they have anything else,” Gage says. “She stated they had a design team that was working on a cheerleading shoe and would I mind being part of that group.”
He eagerly joined the Nike team and helped them come up with a variety of sole and upper designs to accommodate stunts and cheerleader lifts. Nike crafted about 20 shoe samples and shipped them to Gage at WSU, where the cheerleaders wear-tested them during the fall season. Gage wrote a report to Nike and, in the spring, the first Nike Spirit and Glacier shoes hit the stores.
“No crazy soles to tear up shoulders and hands,” Gage says.
Gage gained more than a cheer shoe first at Nike. He and Millard started dating and married in 1984. She was a nationally competitive featured baton twirler at Oregon State University and then a coach for 25 years. She had many students compete at the national level, and Gage would teach her students gymnastics if they needed it.
Meanwhile, his passion for cheerleading kept growing.
“As a PE major, I understood body motion, gymnastics, kinetics, and how to stunt safely. I watched high school cheer teams climb on each other, fall, and get hurt with regularity,” Gage says. “There had to be a way to improve this.”
He started Championship Cheerleading in 1984, with coaching clinics as well as one-day stunt clinics in which they would teach teams how to stunt, throw, and catch cheerleaders safely—the first such clinics in the western United States. It was also the first cheerleading company to be sponsored by Nike. They outfitted the 35 staff members, and provided T-shirts for attendees and gear for everyone at the camps.
At the peak of Championship Cheerleading, they were teaching 2,000 cheerleaders a summer in seven western states. Gage also presented at national conventions. He continued the relationship with Nike for 25 years, connecting the company with cheerleading organizations, giving input into new shoes, and promoting products.
“Nike even flew me to the Final Four in 1987 to run a cheerleading competition right outside the stadium,” Gage says.
He judged and directed many cheerleading competitions on the West Coast and started the Arizona State High School Cheerleading Pom Tournament. It grew from 11 teams in a rec center to the second-largest cheerleading competition in the West with 2,500 competitors at Arizona’s Veterans Memorial Stadium.
Gage became a teacher and cheerleading coach at Murrieta Valley High School in Murrieta, California, in 1994. He coached seven years with different teams that placed 20 times in both state and national competitions. In 2002, his last year there, they were a finalist for national cheerleading team of the year. Gage was also a finalist for national cheerleading coach of the year for the second time.
After 27 years as a teacher and administrator in San Diego and Riverside Counties in California, the Gages retired in 2020 and moved to McKinney, Texas.
But Gage still faced a tough challenge: sorting through dozens of pairs of shoes he’d collected over the years. Many he sent back to Nike for museum displays.