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Archive for Friday, March 10, 2006

Time to change

Hazardous cheerleading stunts aren’t worth the risk.

March 10, 2006

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We may be seeing some significant action against dangerous cheerleading tactics that can maim and kill. That's good, considering how many spectators, particularly parents, hold their breath when some youngster is tossed into the air or allowed to fall a long distance as part of an "inspirational" pep squad performance at an athletic event.

The American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators sets standards for cheerleading safety and is strongly recommending new restrictions after a Southern Illinois University cheerleader suffered serious injuries last weekend when she fell 15 feet and landed on her head.

The Missouri Valley Conference, of which SIU is a member, has barred cheerleaders from certain "aerial or towering" stunts during its women's basketball tournament this week. Every other conference, including the Big 12 of which Kansas is a member, should take similar steps if they have not done so already.

The Missouri Valley action was triggered by a nationally televised incident. Kristi Yamoaka suffered a concussion and fractured neck when she fell from the top of a pyramid formation, the likes of which have long been criticized and condemned for the dangers they create.

The young woman has been released from the hospital and full recovery is projected, but the writing is on the wall: It's time to change the trend toward increasingly spectacular stunts. If there is merit in having cheerleaders at games, there are many other ways for them to "create sprit" than by engaging in basket tosses, high pyramids and "dead men's drops."

While various umbrella organizations call for changes, they cannot formally dictate what youngsters will do or will try to do. Individual schools and leagues have to crackdown and set standards. That should happen.

Youngsters have been crippled and killed in "cheerleading" activities. In our area, the University of Nebraska has outlawed its cheerleaders from doing flips, pyramids and other drastic stunts after one of their cheerleaders was paralyzed in the 1990s after breaking her neck practicing a handspring.

Cheerleaders do not need to be the center of attention at any event. They are supposed to create a sideline activity and add to the flavor and color. Young people, mainly women, need not be thrown into the air and allowed to plunge 15 feet or so into waiting arms to accomplish that.

With basketball tournament action upon us again, the Big 12 should eliminate the chances for new injuries or deaths. We can hope that will set a pattern for high schools to follow. Too many high schools are as guilty as colleges of allowing stunts that can lead to tragedy rather than inspiration.

There has to be an end to the "can you top this?" mentality in cheerleading.

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