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March 30, 2007


America's Deadliest Sport: Cheerleading

Cheerleading, deadly sport

Today's Friday afternoon light read actually borders on gruesome: the NY Times reports that cheerleaders are more likely to sustain head and spinal trauma than any other female high school or college athletes.

Our country's 4 million high school and college cheerleaders are becoming "daredevils", according to the article on this dangerous trend: "While the sport has retained its sense of glamour, at dozens of competitions around the country, knee braces and ice bags affixed to ankles and wrists have become accouterments as common as mascara." Sounds like some forward-thinking movie director needs to make Girlfight 2: Mouthguard Cheerleaders.

It's the increasingly acrobatic nature of cheerleading that's resulted in six times more emergency room visits by cheerleaders in 2004 than in 1980. Shortly after gymnastics boomed in popularity during the '80's, a lot of schools started cutting their teams due to high injury rates and expensive insurance. "Many gifted female gymnasts gravitated toward cheerleading and, with their ability and competitive nature, they soon pushed halftime routines far beyond shaking pompoms and waving banners."

Cheerleading isn't recognized as a sport in many states, who categorize it as a more fluffy "activity"--hardly surprising considering the history of women's sports. And "activities" aren't regulated, so high school teams routinely do stunts that would be banned in the NCAA.

A few horror stories:

San Jose State University cheerleader Rechelle Sneath fell during a practice and was paralyzed from the waist down. She now uses a wheelchair. In 2005, Ashley Burns, a 14-year-old from Medford, Mass., died after being hurled into the air and landing on her stomach, causing her spleen to rupture. And last year, the Prairie View A&M cheerleader Bethany Norwood, 24, died from complications of a paralyzing fall during a cheerleading practice in 2004.

But some cheerleaders are eager to keep putting their lives in their teammates' hands, like one tough-as-nails 18 year-old who competed at the recent National Cheerleaders Association Championships at Hammerstein Ballroom:

Valerie Smith, 18, a cheerleader for New York Cheer, an All-Star squad based on Long Island, was competing with a broken nose sustained in a practice mishap four days earlier. She wore makeup to conceal her still-blackened eyes.

"I haven’t seen a doctor yet, because I was afraid he might not let me come to this competition," Smith, of West Islip, N.Y., said with an impish smile. "But when you’ve been working 10 hours a week for something like this, I wasn’t going to let a broken nose stop me. Besides, that’s letting down the team."

She said all elite cheerleaders lived by the same motto.

"The glitter, the makeup and the curls in our hair make cheerleading so deceiving," Smith said. "We look like pretty little things. Well, most athletes throw balls around. We throw other cheerleaders around. What’s harder? What’s harder to catch?"

categories: Sports
posted by amy at 4:26 PM | #

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