Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Cheer Leading Is Hazardous to A Parent's Health!
Mixed emotions accompanied my daughter to her first day of junior high as a cheerleader. So why the long face? Oh sure, the uniform looks sharp and one can only imagine how it will boost her popularity and her junior high experience. Yet, one trained in the law can not help but question whether her new found status could end up a danger to her health. Is this an overreaction as J.F., an ex-cheerleader might suggest?
Law teaches logic and reasoning. Consequently legal minds are guided by probability and statistics. What do statistics show? Cheer leading is the most dangerous female sport. It accounts for as much as two-thirds of severe school-sports injuries over the past 25 years. Despite the danger, cheer leading is one of the least-regulated school activities. With over 95,000 high school girls participating in cheer this year, a question remains as to how the activity can be enjoyed safely? Keep in mind, sometimes these injuries are very severe. For example, the University of North Carolina's National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research (NCCSI) reports 67 fatal or life-threatening injuries due to cheer leading since 1982. (Compare that to the dangerous sport of gymnastics which reported only nine catastrophic injuries.) Just how serious is the danger? Cheerleaders suffered more injuries than all other school athletes combined! In fact, cheer leading injuries accounted for 65% of all severe injuries on the high school level. In college it is even worse with cheer leading injuries accounting for 67% of all serious injuries.
The potential danger is getting worse. Cheerleaders who consider themselves athletes are often willing to take greater risks. Currently there are no regulations that require the reporting and accumulation of data concerning cheer leading injuries. In the 1980s, most schools eliminated gymnastics teams due to high liability costs. However, in cheer leading, sideline routines often involve the same type of high-flying acrobatics banned in gymnastics. Furthermore, to make the cheer squad gets more competitive each year as girls start cheer training at younger ages. Parents pay ridiculous sums of money in order to maximize their daughter chance to make the squad. Elite touring squads may even compete year-round.
Is cheer an activity or a sport? If it is a sport, why is it so important that they wear such short skirts? Does it matter? Some day it may make a difference as to safety regulations. While 20 states recognize cheer leading as a sport, it remains mostly unregulated. In Massachusetts legislation is contemplated to requiring specific rules and regulations to be promulgated for cheer training and competition. Massachusetts experienced two cheer leading fatalities: In 2005, Ashley Burns, a 14-year-old from Medford, Mass., died after being thrown into the air and landing on her stomach, causing her spleen to rupture. In 2008, 20-year-old Lauren Chang, died after being kicked in the chest. competition.
Jessica Smith is a spokesman for NCSF. She fell 15 feet while cheering for Sacramento City College when a teammate who was supposed to catch her lost his balance. Smith broke her back in two places. The first step in safety may be to get more coaches certified in safety. Only 30% of the 70,000 cheer leading coaches in the U.S. are currently certified by the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators. Certification includes discussions of both legal and medical issues. Spirit organizations have begun to issue some safety guidelines. But such guidelines are almost never mandatory. So what is a dad to do? Smile and take a photo of of the new cheerleader heading off to school in her uniform and hope all of the athletic events for the year are cancelled due to inclement weather.