SHENENDEHOWA, N.Y. – Concussions are on the radar of any parent of
an athlete, especially for sports such as football, but the dangers of high-flying
cheerleaders are just as real.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, over a 10-year
period, concussion rates in cheerleading have increased by 26 percent each year.
A local pediatrician said concussions can be difficult to notice because
people don't have to be unconscious to have one.
One local mother, Joanna Hart, constantly watches out for her
daughter's safety as she cheers for the Shenendehowa football team. Hart
becomes focused when 16-year-old Darienne Hickey's feet come off the ground to
perform a stunt.
Dr. Michael Looney of Delmar Pediatrics said many factors determine
how dangerous cheerleading is as a sport.
“If you look at sports,” he said, “cheerleading has
the lowest incidents overall of injuries in girls' sports, but they have the
highest rate of catastrophic injuries in any sport for women.”
Dr. Looney said a concussion is very different from breaking a
bone because of the potential long-lasting effects.
“The potential is there in terms of people having difficulty
cognitively, where their own IQ is decreased significantly,” he
said. “People have motor difficulties that occur lifelong, people
have speech difficulties that occur lifelong, problem solving, memory skills
can be affected lifelong. Those are all things that can occur life-long
with these kids.”
Shenendehowa Varsity Cheerleading coaches Lauren Berger and Sharon
Figel said their team spends hours practicing every week just like any other
sport. Those hours transcend into big performances and some big stunts.
Every cheerleading coach in the Shenendehowa School District is
required to be certified in concussion training. Berger and Figel said they
make it a priority to prevent concussions.
Dr. Looney said because cheerleading is not recognized as a sport,
long-term studies of data are not collected in a uniform way. However, he does
say the type of floor underneath cheerleaders make a tremendous difference in
the severity of injuries.
Berger said the Suburban Council rules no cheerleader can do a
single stunt or tumbling routine without their feet on mats.
“When I was in high school, we practiced with mats, but never
went to games with mats,” Figel said. “Now we can't do anything
“The girls and boys on our squad don't know any
different,” Berger added. “If there are no mats, they know
nothing is going up. The mats provide a safe foundation, but it's really
the skills they need to know in order to be safe.”
Hickey has been cheerleading since the first grade, and when she
was nine-years-old she fell, but did not suffer a concussion.
“There was not a mat there, so when she was stunting, not
even flying, she fell back and fell on her head,” Hart said.
“Luckily, she was fine, but that's the only scare I've had.”
“It has freaked me out since,” Hickey said.
“Sometimes I try to avoid doing that certain stunt, but you have to think,
you can trust everyone underneath you.”