Today’s cheerleader does more than lead the crowd in spirited yells at football games. The activity has become a competitive, year-round sport involving intensive practice sessions, complex acrobatic stunts and mandatory hours of preparation. As a result the number of injuries and their severity has climbed over the past decade.
Earlier this month, the American Medical Association designated cheerleading as an official sport — no longer an activity — in schools. The AMA said cheerleading is as rigorous as many other activities that high schools and the NCAA consider sports. Cheerleading is the leading cause of catastrophic injury in female athletes at the high school and college level, according to the AMA. If cheerleading is considered a sport by high schools, additional safety measures for cheerleaders and proper training for their coaches would be required. Under the new AMA policy, some of the safety measures include avoiding inappropriate surfaces when performing flips and other stunts and following rules for properly performing stunts.
“These girls are flipping 10, 20 feet in the air,” Pediatrician Samantha Rosman said at the AMA annual meeting. “We need to stand up for what is right for our patients and demand they get the same protection as their football colleagues.”
Karagan Mayberry, a 2014 CCHS graduate and cheerleader who will attend UT-El Paso this fall on a cheer scholarship, said cheerleaders are not considered athletes at CCHS and were told that the athletic medical team would not take care of injuries.
“When (my teammate) had gotten up after having another human fall on her, the athletic team did not want to give her any ice for her head because she is not an athlete,” Mayberry said. “They said that giving her ice would be unfair because of our title as an activity through the school. My junior year, a cheerleader passed out during tryouts and the athletic medical team did not even come to check out my teammate to see what was wrong. They simply told my coach that it was not their job to take care of us.”
Mayberry herself has suffered from sprained ankles, shin splints, jammed fingers, back injuries and elbow injuries. She said her ankles are so weak she has to wear shoe enhancements and do daily exercises to prevent her ankles from getting any weaker.
In 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics passed a similar policy urging coaches, parents and school officials to follow injury-prevention guidelines and ensure cheerleading programs have access to the same level of qualified coaches, medical care and injury surveillance as other sports.
“The academy really feels that cheerleading is a valuable activity for girls,” said Dr. Cynthia LaBella, a pediatric sports medicine specialist with the AAP. “We just want to make sure that they have the same safety precautions in place as other athletes of other sports.”