Cheerleading is no longer just sideline cheers at football games. It has now grown to international and competitive All Star levels. As the competition for the sport has grown, however, so has its risks and injuries. Since the concept of cheerleading began as a yell squad on the sidelines of another game, no one would have thought it would now be on the list of sports with high concussion rates. According to The National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research at the University of North Carolina, “65.2 percent of all catastrophic injuries in youth sports occur in cheerleading.”
Some of the biggest injuries in cheerleading are concussions. Most concussions in cheerleading come when cheerleaders have to perform stunts in the air. In a matter of minutes, a seemingly sturdy stunt can fail and someone can get hit while trying to keep the stunt up. Oftentimes, however, the flyer isn’t the one injured- one of the cheerleaders making up the base is. Emma Kaczorowski, an LHS cheerleader, was preparing for the upcoming competition season when a stunt failed. Emma recalls, “I had been basing when the flyer lost her balance and landed on top of my head. I had grown accustomed to hits and bumps, but something felt different.”
How do you know when you have a concussion? In cheerleading, bumps, bruises and accidents are common. If a stunt falls, you try again. If your tumbling doesn’t go, you run it again. With competitions always in view, many athletes don’t focus on the injury and instead try to push through it. This can work for some common injuries but concussions are much more serious. It is hard to distinguish a concussion from other traumas to the head, so it is very important to get looked at by a doctor or trainer if you feel any symptoms. LHS cheerleader Mia Santos recalled the concussion she got following her fall, saying, “I got my concussion from being dropped in a one legged stunt; I found out that I had a concussion 3 days later. I was out of school for 1 month after my concussion and out of cheer for 6 weeks.”
Having a concussion can impact your life negatively in many ways. You can fall behind in school, work, and can be forced out of doing sports. It has been a year since Emma’s concussion. She looks back and comments “I was out of school for almost two months and out of cheer for two months also. My grades were affected and I ended up failing a class since I was not able to comprehend material. I would start to get migraines if I was on the computer for an extended period of time which made things challenging with online work.”
The hardest part may not be the migraines and headaches that follow the injury but the game of catch-up most athletes face after getting a concussion. Emma comments, “Even today, I still feel the effects. A lot of colleges are looking at my junior year GPA which was way lower due to the concussion. I found myself playing the game of ‘catch up’. I needed to make up my work I missed while staying up to date with the current work. The school gave me a lot of resources but some teachers only went so far in helping.”
With competitive cheerleading now being bigger than ever, accidents are bound to happen. Intense stunts and tumbling are likely to score big at competitions, leading teams to the top, but can also open the door for concussions and other major injuries.