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Doctors Recommend Safety Rules for Cheerleaders

October 26th, 2012

What do you call an activity requires strength, stamina, flexibility, agility, planning, and coordination with team members?  What if the participants were required to train with weight-training and aerobic exercises?  And what if that activity was performed in gymnasiums, in stadiums, and on outdoor fields?  And what if teams competed regionally and nationally? Sounds like a sport, right? Well, not according to sports authorities. For decades, even as Cheer has evolved from pompom waving to rough-and-tumble tumbling, sports experts have continually rejected the notion that Cheer is a sport. They call it an activity in support of “real” sports, like football and basketball, but not a sport in and of itself.

Now, finally, medical experts have weighed in, and they believe it is time for cheerleading to gain acceptance as an official sport. Yay! Gimme a “C”…gimme an “H”…gimme an “E”…well, you get the idea. We think it is a spectacular idea, and about time.

In 2011, we wrote a 3-part series about why Cheer should be recognized as a sport, namely because doing so would afford participants with more safety protections. According to an article on MedPageToday.com:

…the rate of catastrophic injuries — such as head or spine injuries resulting in death or permanent disability — is considerably higher for cheerleading than for other sports. Cheerleading has accounted for about two-thirds of all catastrophic injuries in female high school athletes over the past 25 years.

In addition, concussion rates have increased at a much faster pace in cheerleading compared with other sports.

In response, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has said that school sports associations should designate cheerleading as a sport, and to make it subject to safety rules and better supervision. That should include on-site athletic trainers, restrictions on difficult stunts in high school squads, limits on practice time, and better qualified coaches. In addition, just like other athletes, cheerleaders should be required to do conditioning exercises and undergo physical exams before joining the squad.

According to an article by The Associated Press:

“Not everyone is fully aware of how cheerleading has evolved over the last couple of decades. It used to be just standing on the sidelines and doing cheers and maybe a few jumps,” said Dr. Cynthia LaBella, a sports medicine specialist at Chicago’s Lurie Children’s Hospital and an author of the new policy….

Last year, there were almost 37,000 emergency room visits for cheerleading injuries among girls aged 6 to 22, according to data from the Consumer Product Safety Commission. That’s more than four times higher than in 1980, when cheerleading was tamer.

Although some cheerleaders themselves think that rules will make the sport less exciting, sports medicine specialists are all for the proposed changes, which includes limiting the height of human pyramids in high school cheerleading to just two people, and that routines that include pyramids, tumbling, or tosses should not be performed on hard surfaces.

“Most serious injuries, including catastrophic ones, occur while performing complex stunts such as pyramids,” guidelines co-author Dr. Jeffrey Mjaanes, a member of the AAP Council on Sports Medicine & Fitness, said in an academy news release. “Simple steps to improve safety during these stunts could significantly decrease the injury rate and protect young cheerleaders.”

ADDITIONAL READING

To read our 3-part blog series on making Cheer a sport, click here:

Cheerleaders Are Athletes, Part 1

Cheerleaders Are Athletes, Part 2: Just Chunk It

Cheerleaders Are Athletes, Part 3