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When people think of Texas, two of the images often conjured up are pictures of football and pictures of the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders.  But now some of the dangers involved in both of these Texas past-times are in the news.  Yesterday I wrote about the dangers of lead poisoning from artificial turf, and today, Good Morning America had a feature story on the dangers of cheerleading.

It seems that more and more young girls are being injured in cheerleading accidents.  A 2004 story on cheerleading dangers noted that “In girls sports, more than half of the catastrophic injuries — those causing paralysis or death — are happening on the sidelines, in cheerleading accidents.”  And studies confirm that the number of injuries are rapidly rising.  A 2006 study found that cheerleading injuries doubled from 1990 to 2002, while participation grew just 18 percent over the same period. 

And part of the explanation for the rise is that cheerleading today isn’t like the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders.  Cheerleading is no longer waving pom poms on the sideline, but a competitive sport featuring more and more athletic and acrobatic moves.  From one spokesperson in the Good Morning America story:

But cheerleading is really a sport that combines acrobatic, gymnastics and dance elements, according to Archie. “People have no clue the level of athleticism, they see them throw the girls in the air and they hold their breaths, but they don’t take the time to think about it. If someone was throwing your kid 20 feet in the air over grass and over cement wouldn’t you worry about what’s behind it?” said Archie.

Archie has compiled a list of injuries sustained by cheerleaders going back more than decade. The list includes broken backs, concussions and paralysis. Archie’s own daughter, Tiffani Bright, broke her arm in two places when she was 15 years old. After that, Archie started to ask questions and what she found out frightened her. “No one is trying to shut cheerleading down, we just want some protection for the girls,” said Archie.

We can’t protect our children from all risks, but we can certainly take some steps to minimize the dangers facing them.  The American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators have some common sense safety guidelines, including:

1.  Make sure practices, competitions, etc are performed under the supervision of a trained coach or advisor.

2.  Make sure that all work is done in appropriate locations.

3.  Don’t perform acts that are unreasonable.  The guidelines have a list of approved and non-approved moves.

As we say, it’s okay to have fun, but be safe in the process.

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