Cheerleading: dangers of the sport

At schools like Stony Brook, during the football and basketball seasons, most parents, coaches and fans are focused on the players, and their safety. However, not many of them are aware that there is a sport that is more dangerous – cheerleading.

Emily Levi, junior, Biology major is a member of the Stony Brook Cheerleading team, she says that it is one of the most mentally tough sports out there, both physically and mentally.

“Statistically, cheerleaders are injured more often than football players. Also, mentally you have to learn how to trust your teammates, so you don’t get hurt and perform stunts and tricks that are highly intimidating. Many people develop “mental blocks” and can’t try new skills,” says Levi.

One can argue whether cheerleading is a sport — as many as 20 state high school organizations say it is. In April of 2014, New York state education officials voted to recognize competitive cheerleading as an interscholastic sport. It was done in an effort to improve safety and coaching standards.

Amanda Thompson is in her second year as a coach for the Stony Brook Cheerleading team, she says that injuries are very common due to the complexity of the sport, and it is extremely important for her as a coach to make sure the technique is ran correctly. As for the cheerleaders, staying mentally in the moment is crucial.

“Football is obviously very dangerous but football players have padding, we don’t. We can tumble and flip and throw our bodies around and if for some reason you have a mental moment where you decide to not flip completely you can do a lot of damage.”

Besides injuries, Thompson is concerned about the fact that if one of her students was to get hurt, there is no immediate help available.

“Since it’s considered a club sport we don’t really have a trainer on site for us. I’m pretty much the first person on action if someone was to get hurt,” says Thompson.

According to a recent study published in the Journal of Pediatrics, cheerleading carries the highest rate of catastrophic injury in sports, accounting for 66 percent of those injuries — defined as ones so severe they may result in permanent disability, long-lasting medical conditions or a shortened life expectancy — in female athletes. That may come as a surprise to those who still imagine cheerleaders doing little more than jumping, yelling and waving pompoms.

It was not long time ago that Julia Tomasello, junior, Studio Art major sprained her ankle while coming out of a stunt during one of the cheerleading practices.

“There are three people that are injured on the team right now. I think it’s just the nature of what we do, because in what other sports are you six feet above the ground. If a 5 foot 6 girl is holding you with her arms extended over her head, you’re at least 6 feet up with your entire body weight coming down.”

The athleticism required, from brute strength to flexibility and agility, is a combination star running backs require. The amount of routines to memorize and the pressure to execute isn’t far off from a point guard. You have to make sure that you’re conditioned, you have to make sure that you’re warming up correctly. People have to make sure that they’re eating correctly.

“It’s actually a very athletic sport,” president of the cheer team, Kristin McGinn, said. “I don’t think anyone knows, unless they’ve done it, how draining it is on your body and mentally. Just how difficult it is to do what we actually do.”

Stony Brook Cheerleading team has quite of a schedule. What seems as just a club sport, sometimes takes up around 20 hours per week, which is not different at all from the Stony Brook varsity teams. And if you feel that you have the time needed, there is also a list of requirements for potential team members: attend all home football games, men’s and women’s basketball games and their tournaments, be present at all practices and workouts, participate in fundraising events, attend all on and off campus service and publicity events, maintain a minimum 2.0 GPA, and uphold a positive image.

The only male member of the Stony Brook Cheerleading team, Timothy Roche is a senior, and has to balance his two majors Mathematics and Applied Math and Statistics with an intense cheerleading schedule.

“This semester I’m in five 300-level math classes. It is hard. I have to do school work alone with all the hours of practice and having to be at every football and basketball game. Last weekend for example, I had 15 hours of cheer leading from Friday to Sunday, and 3 exams this week.”

Despite the intensity of his student-cheerleader life, Roche says that hard work pays off. “I like being on the team. It keeps me in shape and it’s fun. I also enjoy being involved in all the school activities. I get to be on the field for basketball and football games, and I’ve been on TV and in newspapers, I even got to be on the court for a basketball game in Madison Square Garden. I would never have these opportunities if I was not on the team.”

In addition to the regular college cheering, Stony Brook Cheerleading team has competed at the Universal Cheerleaders Association (UCA) Nationals for the first time in 2014. The squad did pretty good, placing in the top 10 among all Division I teams.

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