To those who haven’t been in high school since the 80’s and haven’t managed to see Bring It On on television at some point in their life, it may come as some surprise that cheerleading is one of the more dangerous physical activities available through school. Every year girls suffer broken bones, sprains, and brain injuries, yet it is still somehow not deemed a sport by many high school sports associations.
The idea that the main goal of cheerleaders is to help support other athletic teams from the sidelines is at this point outdated. For the cheerleaders, the real goal is to win the competition with a routine exponentially more complicated than the 30 second cheers most witness. The increasing difficulties of these routines has driven cheerleading from a simple form of gymnastics to “probably the highest risk sport for a catastrophic head and neck injury,” according to Dr. Jeff Mjaanes.
Until cheerleading is considered a sport nationwide, not much will change. Only 29 state high school associations recognize cheerleading as a sport, which means 21 states have basically unregulated cheer squads. There are individual schools and districts that have created extra regulation to try to protect the athletes, but there are just as many who have no limits for what their cheerleaders can and can’t do.
EIN News does have some suggestions that schools with no cheerleading regulation can adopt to try to prevent cheerleading from developing their own brain injury problem similar to what football is dealing with at the moment. Regular physicals should be a part of any athletic activity, as should requirements to pull any athlete until cleared by a doctor if they are suspected to have sustained a brain injury. It is also important to only practice dangerous routines or formations on foam or grassy surfaces only. Hardwood basketball courts are not a safe surface for a girl to fall onto.
Just as with any youth sport, cheerleading can be a positive experience for the young people involved, and can help with the creation of confidence and feelings of belonging that will help these children get through the rest of their life. The question isn’t whether we should allow children to participate in engaging ways to stay active, the question is how can we make the sport safe without taking the excitement out of the competition.