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Study: Cheerleading Identified as Leader in Dangerous Activities

By Nikki Weingartner     Aug 19, 2008 in Sports
Sports-related injuries in high schools and universities across the nation aren't just coming from football or other seemingly violent sports. A recent report reveals that two-thirds of those injuries are from the popular spirit event of cheerleading.
A recent report from the University of North Carolina's National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research has brought major attention to what some states see as an athletic sport, while others a mere extracurricular activity.
Since the last report was released in 1982, there have been 67 catastrophic events in high school and college cheerleading, followed by gymnastics with 9 catastrophic injuries and track, with 7. What is alarming is that the cheerleaders known for their spirit are suffering more than all other sports combined when it comes to injuries, with just over 65 per cent of high school-related injuries and 67 per cent of college injuries coming from cheerleading.
Those numbers, however, could be much higher than the report reveals due to inconsistencies on how to classify the "activity". For instance, in some states such as Arkansas and Georgia, cheerleading is a regulated sport governed by rules and regulations. In New York and California, it is simply an athletic activity.
There are only 20 states who see cheerleading as a sport, limiting the reporting requirements of injuries and safety of those working with cheerleaders.
In 2005, two cheerleaders died in two separate cheerleading accidents. One incident involved a highschool teen who fell on her stomach and ruptured her spleen during a pyramid-type activity. The other was accidentally kicked in the chest during a college level competition. Both girls were delayed in receiving emergency medical care, according to an ABC news report.
In 2003, Kim Archie's daughter suffered a cheerleading fall that required her 15-year-old teenager to undergo surgery involving a steel plate in her arm. Archie's experience brought about national awareness that cheerleading was a dangerous sport that required more safety elements in areas like coaching, training and awareness. She went on to found the National Cheer Safety Foundation.
In the news article, she explains how the report brings to light the elements of safety but that it also underestimates the injuries that occur:
"Dr. Mueller's report only covers high school and college kids during the school year," she said. "If it. happens in a summer camp, it is not on Dr. Mueller's report."
The biggest issue is that unlike regulated sports, without rules, injuries to cheerleaders often go unreported.
Other issues such as a lack of appropriately trained staff like trainers or those with certifications have contributed to some of the injuries. However, since 2005, those injury rates have fallen as around 30 percent of cheerleading coaches have become certified through the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators.
As Dr. Meuller recommends in his report:
"A major factor in this increase has been the change in cheerleading activity, which now involves gymnastic-type stunts," said Dr. Frederick O. Mueller, lead researcher on the new report and a professor of exercise and sports science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "If these cheerleading activities are not taught by a competent coach and keep increasing in difficulty, catastrophic injuries will continue to be a part of cheerleading."
Mueller and Archie believe that the best way to counter this problem is for for athletic organizations to begin regulating cheerleading as a sport, rather than simply an activity but there are many who feel that doing that will have a counter productive outcome, making cheerleading even less safe because it would begin regulating the time cheerleaders could practice.
Many schools have relinquished the popularity aspect of cheerleading altogether, requiring specific elements of tumbling such as back handsprings and flips in order to make a school squad. That in itself lends to the more athletic trend as mentioned by Dr. Meuller.
Also listed in the report were the ranking of the direct injuries in their relative female sport:
80 high school direct injuries included nine in gymnastics, 44 in cheerleading, five in swimming, four in basketball, seven in track, three in softball, three in field hockey, two in ice hockey, one in lacrosse, one in soccer, and one in volleyball.
32 college direct injuries were associated with cheerleading(19), gymnastics(2), field hockey(3), soccer(1), skiing(1), ice hockey(1), track (pole vault)(1), equestrian(1), softball(1), and lacrosse(2).
Making cheerleading the leader in two-thirds of the sports related school injuries and costing the NCAA Insurance program over 25 percent of its money spent.
With this much of a lead in catastrophic injuries, it may be safe to say that the nation needs to think about how it categorizes activities such as gymnastics.
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