The 26th annual report from the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and authored by Frederick O. Mueller, Ph.D., was recently released. It has found that cheerleading leads all other female sports in catastrophic injuries for high school and college women. The report includes new data that comes from the 2007-2008 academic year (which actually saw a decline in cheerleading injuries for that period) but covers all data for a 26 year period beginning in the fall of 1982 and ending in the spring of 2008.
In the report, any severe injury that occurs during participation in a school or college sport is considered catastrophic and divided into three categories - fatal, non-fatal (disabling), and serious. Here are some of the conclusions from the report:
- There were 1,116 catastrophic injuries in high school (905) and college sports (211).
- In high school sports there were 152 fatalities, 379 non-fatal and 374 serious injuries. In college sports there were 22 fatalities, 63 non-fatal and 126 serious injuries.
- Cheerleading accounted for 65.2 percent of high school and 70.5 percent of college catastrophic injuries among all female sports.
- In this 26 year period there were 103 fatal, non fatal, or serious injuries recorded among female high school athletes. The majority, 67, occurred in cheerleading followed by gymnastics with nine and track with seven.
Frederick O. Mueller has been quoted by LiveScience as stating, “Progress has been slow, but there has been an increased emphasis on cheerleading safety. Continued data collection on all types of cheerleading injuries will hopefully show that these safety measures are working to reduce injuries.”
Personally, I think it's important that while reading this report you keep in the mind the following:
- The report does not cover all types of cheerleaders such as all-stars and recreational.
- The report covers a 26 year period. Some of which the reporting of cheerleading injuries may not have been consistent or accurate. Records were poorly kept in the past and only recently have they updated the record keeping system.
- Percentages are based on all female sports in high schools and colleges. What about male sports?
- What are the numbers on participants? For example, how many cheerleaders are there compared to gymnasts in high school sports?
In conclusion, there is no doubt that cheerleading can be dangerous, but there are dangers in any sport or physical activity. And as I've said before, even one injury is one too many. I feel like the industry as a whole does recognize the importance of safety and is striving to do all that it can to reduce and more importantly, prevent injuries. Knowledge and education are the key. Coaches should be educated, certified and follow all safety rules. Cheerleaders should be taught to practice and perform safely. They should have rules and guidelines and they must learn to adhere to them. Parents should also be involved in safety; they need to be well-informed and if in doubt, ask questions.