Often cheerleaders are thought of as a group of young girls chanting and waving pom poms. But many squads are putting a whole new spin on school spirit.
Flips, tosses, stunts, and teammates catapulting one another into the air are all part of “competitive cheerleading”.
Simply put, you have to be an athlete to do this sport, one doctor says.
The activity, or sport as cheerleaders call it, is becoming more extreme, moving past the sidelines and into a competitive field of its own where the cheerleaders are the action.
“You have to be happy, peppy, and have athletic ability to lift people up, tumble and dance,” Cathedral City High School Cheer Coach Andrea Soukup says.
As the sport evolves, teams are adding risky stunts and complex maneuvers to routines sending more cheerleaders to the doctor.
“If you’re cheerleading you are going to get hurt at some point,” physical therapist Dr. Roy Burton says. “You are lifting people in the air, sometimes throwing them 10 or 15 feet in the air. And if you catch them wrong or don’t catch them, they can break a bone, hurt their neck, or get paralyzed.”
However, the most common injuries are strains, sprains, and spinal damage.
“You’re putting your life into the hands of the back spots and spotters, the people that are supposed to catch you,” reminds Soukoup.
For these reasons, the state of Wisconsin now considers cheerleading a contact sport. This is the first state to pass such legislation.
It protects schools and teams from lawsuits by essentially saying play at your own risk.