January 16, 2006
Cheerleaders are no longer
expected to just stay on the sidelines and cheer for the athletes
on the field or the court. More and more, the cheerleaders are the
in the air, climb human pyramids and catch their tumbling teammates
as they fall to the ground. They also make lots of emergency room
visits. Research indicates cheerleading injuries more than doubled
from 1990 through 2002, while participation grew just 18 percent
over the same period. ... Almost all the patients in the study were
treated at emergency rooms and released. But because researchers
used only ER numbers gathered by the Consumer Product Safety Commission,
the true number of those injured is likely even greater, since many
kids are treated at doctors' offices or by team trainers, researchers
said. The rise in injuries is probably because the stunts are increasingly
difficult, the researchers said. ... 'It's not just standing on
sidelines with pompoms going, "Rah, rah, rah." It uses
gymnastics, and some stunts are certainly more dangerous than others,'
said Barry Boden, an orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine
in Rockville, Maryland, who was not involved in the study."
"... The rise in injuries
is probably because the stunts are increasingly difficult, the researchers
those injuries are becoming more common because cheerleading for
different sports has become a sport itself and the competition is
fierce. Brenda Shields, a researcher at Columbus Children's Hospital,
found that almost 209,000 young cheerleaders aged 5 to 18 were treated
at hospitals. In the 13-year study, Shields found most injuries
happen in the legs and feet of girls between the ages of 12 and
18. These days, cheerleaders are expected to do complex gymnastic
routines and sometimes without the proper training, she said. ...
Shields found that coaches are not always trained, and some schools
lack the proper facilities and equipment. And some cheerleaders
practice in hallways and on other hard surfaces."
Lack of training for coaches
is certainly an issue that needs to be addressed. While some feel
that addressing the safety issues with proper training would be
sufficient, others think that still more needs to be done.
their coaches agree their sport is demanding and risky, but insist
training is more important than padding when it comes to physical
safety. 'Cheerleading is dangerous,' said Samantha England, 14,
a cheerleader at Full Out Cheer in Watertown. 'But if you know what
you're doing, you're not gonna get hurt. Padding would just
get in the way.' Ruth Burns of Medford, mother of 14-year-old Ashley
Burns, who died last year after rupturing her spleen during a cheering
stunt, is recommending a law named for her daughter. 'Ashley's
Law' would require coaches to provide EMTs and protective gear at
games, competitions and even practices. Cheerleading injuries have
doubled between 1990 and 2002, according to a study by the Journal
of Pediatrics. But Shauna McGoldrick, England's teammate, worried
about how helmets and padded vests would look with pleated skirts
and ponytails. 'It wouldn't look great in competitions,' said McGoldrick,
Take the concerns of a
parent who lost her child to a cheerleading accident. Then counter
these with the concerns of teens who think that extra padding, "wouldnt
look great in competitions," and is unnecessary because, "if
you know what you're doing, you're not gonna get hurt. Padding would
just get in the way." One can see that there is still a long
way to go for the future of safety regulations in this evolving
"There are three groups
responsible for safety in school cheerleading; the cheerleaders
themselves, the coaches, and the administration. ... By following
the same procedures as for any other athletic activity, along with
providing safety mats, administrators can rest assured that their
cheerleading program is in compliance with the recognized standard
Treating cheerleading as
a sport -- and cheerleaders as athletes -- will help a school to
assure that its cheerleaders are given "the recognized standard
of care" that would be offered
to students participating in other sports. For some schools, this
will mean looking at cheerleading through new eyes and making some
"Cheerleading is not
considered a sanctioned sport by some state high school athletic
associations. As a result, coaches are not always trained, and some
schools lack the proper facilities and equipment, said the study's
lead author, Brenda Shields, an injury researcher at Columbus Children's
Research Institute in Ohio."
Some schools have already
seen the need, and changes have been made.
"[O]n February 10,
2005, the Minnesota State High School League Board of Directors
voted to adopt the Activity Advisory Proposal requiring all cheer
coaches directly responsible for the supervision of a stunting cheer
squad to be AACCA [American Association of Cheerleading Coaches
and Advisors] Safety and Stunt Progression Certified. This requirement
will be in effect for the fall of 2005. As cheerleading stunts
become increasingly more difficult and complex, the need for properly
trained coaches has become crucial. Requiring these classes will
assure properly trained coaches and a safer environment with less
chance of injury for participating students. Schools and/or coaches
that choose not to become certified in AACCA Safety and Stunting
Progressions may still offer and coach sideline cheerleading, however,
these squads will not be allowed to perform any stunting activities."
"The AACCA Spirit
Safety Certification Program is a lecture course, study manual,
and timed exam designed to educate cheerleading and dance coaches
in all aspects of spirit safety and risk management. ... The minimum
age to take the course for certification is 18 years of age. Those
under 18 can take the course as a benefit to their safety awareness,
but certification will not be given until the age of 18."
Having coaches who are
better educated about "spirit safety and risk management"
is important. In addition, those participating in the sport also
need be aware of safety concerns and precautions they can take to
reduce the risk of injury.
did find a dramatic increase in the number of injuries, they were
relieved to see that they were not serious most of the time. Only
about one in five cheerleaders is hospitalized for their injuries,
and the rest recover at home."
Just doing the math: If
over 200,000 cheerleaders are injured each year (and this number
is on the rise), then over 40,000 are hospitalized for their injuries
in a given year. The rest need recovery time at home.
Questions of the Week:
When a sport is evolving, how does that change what administrators,
coaches, parents, and students can do to create a safe training
environment? Whose responsibility is it to make sure that the training
environment offered by the school is keeping up with the demands
of the sport and the needs of the athletes? What can/ should students,
parents, coaches, or administrators do if they think a training
environment is not safe? If no rules are being broken (because the
training environment fits within the standards of the law -- or
there are no standards), then how does this change what those with
concerns can/ should do? Who should determine what constitutes a
safe training environment?
Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.
I look forward to reading
what you have to say.
Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum