What was determined to be the most dangerous sport, according to a recent report by the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research?
That’s right … you read that correctly folks … cheerleading is considered to be the most dangerous sport. According to NCCSI, “Cheerleading has changed dramatically in the past twenty-five years and now has two distinctive purposes; 1) of a service-oriented leader of Cheer on the sideline; and 2) as a highly skilled competing athlete. A number of schools, both high schools and colleges, across the country have limited the types of stunts that can be attempted by their cheerleaders. Rules and safety guidelines now apply to both practice and competition. As already stated in this report, high school and college cheerleaders account for over one-half of the catastrophic injuries to female athletes. Inexperienced and untrained coaches should not attempt to teach stunts with a higher level of difficulty than their team is capable of achieving or they have the knowledge and ability to teach.”
“According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, a primary purpose of sideline spirit groups (dance, pom, drill or cheer) is to serve as support groups for the interscholastic athletic programs within the school. A primary purpose for competitive spirit groups is to represent the school in organized competition. In January of 1993, 18 rules revisions were adopted for spirit groups. One of the major rules prohibits tumbling over, under, or through anything (people or equipment). All of the other rules were adopted to enhance the safety of the participants. Today, emphasis is placed not only on the stunting athlete, but also on the base and the spotter. Proper conditioning and attentiveness will help minimize the risk involved in a competition. Information concerning these new rules and updates are available from the National Federation of State High School Associations in Indianapolis, Indiana. The contact person is Susan Loomis.”
For me, I was in high school cheerleading and loved every minute of it. As part of try-outs for the next year (like it is for many sports, you have to try out each year to win your spot back on the team and if someone better comes along they just might take your place) I was helping the incoming freshmen learn how to do a basket-toss (0:24 seconds into the video linked above). Throughout the video above they go over and over how important it is to undergo proper training and that there is the proper level of supervision when performing stunts. In my case we were in the corner of the gym … me, a fellow teammate, and three novice freshman girls. Not a good combination. I remember the three coaches trying their best to walk around the gym and supervise the best they could but there is no way that three adults (two of whom hadn’t ever done an actual stunt or gymnastic routine in their lives) could even possibly watch over that many people.
When helping these girls I had to be the flyer as I was the one who knew what I was doing … mostly. For those who don’t know, there are three main positions in cheerleading: flyer, spotter, and base. The flyer is the one being tossed in the air or up in the extension. The spotter is the one with the hands on the legs or ankles or at least nearby making sure that the person is being well supported and is there to help bring the person up or down and assist with spotting calls. The base is the most important part of the team, these people are the ones who lift and push and toss and catch. They are the make it or break it role on the squad. No matter how good a flyer is … if her base can’t support her or isn’t stable … she’ll never make it into position.
Once we had gone over the drill it was time for the stunt. I braced myself and jumped into position. The hands were locked and I was tossed in the air. Though it was a small toss with not a lot of height I knew that the most important part was the catch and I just had a feeling that these girls were not going to get it. Breaking the rules I turned my head to look over my right shoulder as I was on my way back down and that is when I saw that they were standing too far apart and sure enough I slid right through their arms and fell with a thud to the gym floor. This time it was actually good that I broke the rules because looking over my shoulder caused me to land on my right him instead of smack on my lower back. When I landed on my hip it shot the leg out from the socket and tore all ligaments and tendons and caused a hairline fracture in the socket of my pelvic bone. I am blessed that I didn’t land square on my back because the gym floor would have most likely caused a spinal fracture. As it was I had slightly dislocated my L5 vertebrae and had dislocated my hip although it actually went right back in without a problem because of the way I landed … luckily the gluteus maximus, minimus and piriformis are there to hold your hip together.
In addition to this injury I am one of the small percentage of people who suffer from sciatica. This only adds to the injury and to this day I have periods of time where I have trouble with my right hip and leg. Sometimes when I’m driving for long distances my entire right leg will go numb … have you ever tried to drive with your left leg? Not easy. Also, certain things I do, like riding horses where I have to straddle something for a long time will cause my leg to go numb and I develop excruciating pain in my hip. For a while I couldn’t even run for long distances because my leg would start to give out on me though now I am much better. The other problem is sitting for a long time. I have to get up often at work and when I’m doing things like watching a movie or using the computer.
When people ask me how I hurt myself and I say I did it in cheerleading, they just laugh. I don’t think people really understand how dangerous the sport can be. It is important that we educate ourselves on the rules and regulations on cheerleading and try to make sure that there is adequate supervision when performing these stunts. This is a pre-existing condition and therefore not covered under insurance and because I was injured doing a high school sport in a gym with little supervision I have no proof that my injury is directly related to cheerleading and therefore no way to make the county or anyone pay for my medical bills. Please be aware of the risks associated but don’t prevent your child from participating because of the high amount of injuries. As long as there is adequate training and supervision it can be a fun and challenging sport. 🙂