Amid calls for cheerleading safety, an examination of the activity as sport

By on November 20th, 2012

Kaitlyn McGrath, WUFT

Coach Allison Barker watches her Santa Fe High School cheerleaders

The University of Florida’s grounding this week of stunts, tumbles and tosses by its cheerleaders has put the focus on safety. However, the UF action comes several weeks after new guidelines for Florida high school cheerleaders, and a renewed national discussion of the whether the activity is a sport.

A recently released journal article by the American Academy of Pediatrics, calls for increased vigilance in cheering safety, and for cheerleading to be considered an officially sanctioned sport.

While 29 states recognize cheerleading as a sport, the National Collegiate Athletic Association doesn’t consider the activity a sport and therefore doesn’t track the number, or monitor the safety, or college cheerleaders.

The new policy statement from the pediatrics associtation states that school sports associations should consider cheerleading a sport, and the activity should be subject to regulations and monitoring for safety.

The Florida High School Athletic Association has released guidelines for both competitive and non-competitive cheering. These rules ensure that all proper safety measures are taken for cheering.

“There aren’t a whole lot of injuries with cheerleading,” said Dr. Tom Martinko, director of adolescent medicine at Shands. “The problem is a lot of the injuries that there are relative to the other sports are more catastrophic.”

An article in the Wall Street Journal on the new guidelines states that cheerleading has a lower level of injuries compared to other sports like gymnastics. The number of those injuries that can be severe, however, are much higher:

According to researchers at the University of North Carolina’s National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research, about 65% of the 128 direct catastrophic injuries to high-school female athletes between the 1982-1983 and 2010-2011 school years were received while cheerleading, according to the center’s research.

Among college female athletes, cheerleading accounted for 71% of 51 direct catastrophic injuries, according to the center.

Last week, a cheerleader for the Orlando Magic was seriously hurt when she fell during a stunt.

Although University Athletic officials made no direct link to the incident in Orlando, a decision was made to limit aerial stunts performed at UF’s last home game to some outcry by fans.  On Monday, UAA officials released an email statement from Steve McClain, a spokesman for the UAA.

“Unlike UF’s varsity competitive sports, cheerleading is a support group intended to generate and sustain spirit at University events.  This decision was not one that was made lightly, with the cheerleaders’ safety of paramount importance.  We understand that the modern day culture of cheerleading encourages acrobatic stunts which require tremendous athletic skill.  The reality, however, is that the danger associated with these types of stunts is simply not worth the risk to the cheerleaders or to the University of Florida.  Instead of waiting for a tragedy to occur, we are taking a proactive stance to protect the cheerleaders, who represent the University of Florida with enthusiasm and class, and allow them to lead cheers at Gator games for years to come.”


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