Lack of safety standards needs attention
I recently came across a news release from the national media on cheer injuries. In addition to the usual horror stories, it included the following points of interest:
- Over the pasta 26 years, 73 cases of catastrophic cheerleading injuries in the U.S. have been traced by the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research at UNC. These included fractured skulls or broken necks that led to permanent disabilities and two deaths.
- According to estimates by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, almost 30,000 cheerleaders are treated in emergency rooms nationawide each year.
- Emergency room visits from cheerleaders have tripled since the mid-80’s when cheerleading turned competitive and incorporated high risk gymnastics stunts. Cheerleading popularity and participation also increased during this time.
- High risk stunts such as basket tosses, pyramids, and certain tumbling runs top the list for injuries, which are frequently executed on gymnasium floors, grass, and dirt with nothing separating the cheerleader from the hard surfaces.
- High school cheer is not considered an official sport in most states. Therefore, cheer doesn’t necessitate the same limits on practice time, safety equipment, or training for coaches that are essential for other high school sports.
- The American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators (AACCA) requires cheer coaches to be certified in 13 states. Certification often only requires an online test for coaches, which offers no training in spotting techniques or gymnastics. And only about a dozen states regulate cheer by the rules that are set by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS).
- NFHS offers an online cheer coach certification course comparable to the AACCA course. Yet, each state will determine if the coach is required to take the certification course.
- In 2010, AACCA introduced its first set of rules, which bans double twisting dismounts and basket tosses. However, that rule only applies to the youngest cheerleaders who are on either the elementary, middle or junior high teams.
- Susan Loomis, the NFHS rulebook editor for spirit teams comments that there is no acting ‘cheer police’ at the high school level. She herself does not know what the repercussions would be if someone did not follow or broke a rule.