| Cheerleading is simply not what it used to be.
The pom-poms and high kicks are still there, but today's cheerleaders
look more like professional gymnasts performing daring and risky
"When people say this isn't a sport, that's just no
way to look at it," says Meagan, a high school competitive
cheerleader. "We're doing just as much as the football
players are doing."
"It's really changed," says Dr. Sally Harris, a
sports medicine and
pediatric specialist with the Palo Alto Medical Foundation.
"I think the whole term "cheerleading" is a
misnomer. It's not leading the crowd in cheer anymore. That's
a minor part of what these athletes are doing. It's competing
at a high level of gymnastics with stunts and tricks."
Those stunts and tricks can sometimes lead to injuries.
"If she gets dropped or gets in the wrong position and
lands on her head or neck, you can die or become paralyzed.
More often you end up breaking something. But, that's still
pretty serious," says Dr. Harris.
According to Dr. Harris' research on cheerleading injuries,
emergency room visits have increased five-fold over the past
20 years. In 2001, there were 25,000 hospital visits for cheerleading
injuries to the ankle, shoulder, head and neck.
Harris says schools are partly to blame for the rise in injuries.
"A lot of the problems with cheerleading come indirectly
from the fact
that at many schools it's not recognized as an official school
Harris says. "Cheerleading doesn't get the support other
sports get in terms of access to an athletic trainer and appropriate
facilities to practice on like soft mats instead of the last
empty space in the gym or hallway."
Experts say parents should insist on coaches with experience,
especially if the cheerleaders try complicated and potentially
dangerous routines. Also, make sure children get physicals,
especially if they have already been hurt.
Harris advises, "If there [are] any aches and pains
or pre-existing joint, ankle or knee problems, get those checked
out with a sports physical ahead of time because the biggest
predictor of injuries is a previous injury that hasn't been