Is cheerleading dangerous?
A report notes risks of cheerleading but local coaches say rules keep squads safe
Originally published October 9, 2012 at 9 a.m., updated October 9, 2012 at 10:53 a.m.
No high pyramids for these girls
Among the recommendations in the North Carolina study were that there be no three-person high pyramids and no use of trampolines. Cheerleading coaches at both Wenatchee and Eastmont high schools say the NFSHSA rules that they abide by prohibit those stunts.
Do the cheerleaders ask to do stunts that are outside the rules?
No, say their coaches.
Kimberly Valle, captain of the 15-girl Wenatchee squad, said “it would be fun to do backflips and things like you see in the movies,” but she knows the rules are in place for safety and she wants the girls to stick with them.
Recently, the Wenatchee squad was working on a two-person pyramid move with a drop into a cradle catch. That’s in the rule book and is safe with lots of practice, Blair said.
Katie Kansky — the flier in the move — looked confident during the stunt and the catch.
“I absolutely trust that they’re going to catch me,” she said.
— Dee Riggs, World staff
About seven years ago, a cheerleader at Wenatchee High School nailed a stunt called a double down.
At the time, cheerleading coach Danielle Schafer-Cloke was proud of the double-twisting dismount that ends with the cheerleader cradled by other cheerleaders.
It took a lot of work and skill to pull it off, she says.
Still, today, she’s glad that stunt is no longer legal in a rule book used by cheerleaders in Washington and in numerous other states. She said she thinks too many cheerleaders nationwide attempt such a maneuver without first mastering less complicated stunts.
By making that one stunt illegal, cheerleading officials hope to help reduce injuries that have risen steadily over the past 29 years, an official with the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFSHSA) said.
A new national report shows that high school cheerleaders were associated with 65 percent of all female catastrophic sports injuries for that age group in the past 29 years. Catastrophic is defined as resulting in death or serious injuries with or without permanent disability.
The report, put out annually by the University of North Carolina, states that for the past 29 years:
High school female sports accounted for 128 direct catastrophic injuries.
Of those injuries, 83 were to cheerleaders. They included two deaths, 33 permanent disability injuries and 48 serious injuries with recovery.
The report notes that, despite new rules being in place, cheerleading emergency visits to hospitals rose from 4,954 in 1980 to 36,288 in 2010.
The report points out statistics compiled by the Consumer Product Safety Commission which state that about 98 percent of the cheerleading injuries were treated and released. Of the hospital visits, however, there were 291 athletes hospitalized, 71 treated and transferred to another hospital and 49 held for observation.
During the 2010-2011 school year, there was one direct high school cheerleading catastrophic injury, according to the report by the University of North Carolina. A cheerleader collided with another cheerleader during practice and was elbowed in the temple, causing two skull fractures and seizures, the report states. Doctors put the cheerleader into a medically induced coma. The cheerleader was still recovering as of late this summer.
Kent Summers, director of performing arts and sports with NFSHSA, said the double-down stunt resulted in concussions, along with abrasions and bruises.
“We found that injuries did not come from missing the stunt completely but more from hitting other cheerleaders as the flier was coming down, or they’d hit a shoulder or another cheerleader’s head,” Summers said.
He said he thinks cheerleading injuries were much lower 30 years ago when cheerleaders mostly stood on the sidelines and cheered. There were few, if any stunts, he said.
Then, when many schools stopped offering gymnastics as a sport more than 20 years ago, students interested in that type of activity gravitated toward cheerleading and began adding complicated maneuvers. He said he thinks the addition of cheerleading squads that do nothing but compete have also added to cheerleading injuries because they push the envelope of difficult stunts.
The data from the University of North Carolina did not differentiate between basic cheerleaders and competitive cheerleaders.
Lisa Blair, cheerleading coach at Wenatchee High School this year, said she knows that “stunting is risky” and she noted that cheerleaders and their parents must sign consent forms that acknowledge the risk.
According to Blair, and Kathy Jasman, coach of the Eastmont High School cheer squad, the key to keeping their young charges safe is to follow the NFSHSA rule book on cheerleading moves and to move the girls slowly through progressively more difficult moves.
“We start at the basics and build our way up,” Blair said.
She and Jasman also said that a coach with training in approved stunts is always with the girls at designated practices and the girls know to abide by the rules.
Blair noted that the rule book is “extremely specific about what is allowed, down to how their hair is done and the fact that no glitter or jewels are allowed on the face,” she said.
In the two years she’s coached cheerleading, Blair said she has seen girls get minor ankle or wrist injuries but nothing that required a trip to the doctor.
Jasman, who has been EHS cheer coach for eight years, said she cannot remember any cheerleader injuries during that time.
Both coaches said their squad’s purpose is to provide support for teams, and they do not compete in events that require high- and complicated-skill levels.
Jasman said she thinks the injury report gives cheerleading a bad reputation, especially noncompetitive cheerleading.
“If a stunt is in question for safety,” she said, “we don’t do it.”
Dee Riggs: 664-7147
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