Most dangerous sport for girls: cheerleading?

Varsity girls do their splits during round two at the annual holiday cheer bash.

You watch her as she spins in the air. You see her hand coming towards you. You want to avoid the blow you know your going to take, but you can’t let her fall. It’s your job to make sure she’s safe. Her hand violently makes contact with your face, and the pain shoots through you like a jolt of electricity.

Sixty-five percent of all catastrophic injuries in girls’ high-school athletics occur while cheerleading. Every year cheerleading is full of broken bones, concussions, and many sprains. From behind all of the smiling faces, cheerleading is different than most people think.

Most people stereotype cheerleading, because they don’t know anything about it.  We go to practice for two hours everyday, just like any other athlete. To be a cheerleader, you have to be strong and very flexible. To the crowd it seems like cheerleaders just walk out on the mats, yell a few words, do a couple jumps, and move their arms around, but to us its much different.  You have to go out there, ignore the faces of the silent crowd, yell as loud as you can with many inflexions of your voice, and stick every motion perfectly.

The judges score us based on mistakes. Each round is worth a certain amount of points, and every time they see someone with a bent wrist, a finger out of place, or someone doing a motion a second off, it’s a tenth of a point. And with many girls, those points can add up fast. Then there are penalties. There are many different kinds of penalties, but some are worth a lot of points. If a girl doesn’t attempt a skill, such as a jump, splits, or heel stretch, there’s a 22-point deduction. You also get a penalty for stepping off of the mat while cheering, or for example, if your bow falls out of your hair and onto the mat, its considered dangerous and a big deduction.

During a competition, there are three rounds. Round one is our “creative round”. It consists of jumps and motions only, and not everyone has to be doing the exact same thing at the same time. This round normally is full of ripples and flashy arm motions. Round two is the round where everything has to be exactly perfect and on time. In the beginning of this round every team’s first ten motions are the same, just different words. This is called the 10-point precision drill, and judges know exactly what to look for from each girl. Skills in this round consist of splits, jumps, heal stretches, cartwheels, round offs, walkovers, back handsprings, and back tucks. The teams that score the highest on this round are the ones with a team back tuck and back handspring, and that’s something of which to be proud. Then, there’s round three, and it’s the most favorable round of all. It’s the round where girls tumble across the floor and twist in the air. It’s probably the most tiring round, but its what we work hard for everyday. It’s also the most dangerous.  Thankfully no one on our team had this happen, but we’ve run into girls with broken noses and jaws at competitions, from getting hit with loose arms cradling from a stunt.

So next time when you hear the word cheerleader, think twice about what you say, because as the saying goes, don’t judge a book by its cover.


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