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Which is more dangerous for girls: sports or cheerleading?

August 3, 2009 |  4:32 pm

While Title 9 has increased the participation of young women in high school and college sports, it has done nothing to address the most serious source of catastrophic injuries for young women -- cheerleading.

Laura Data from the Consumer Products Safety Commission show that the number of catastrophic injuries -- those involving death or disability caused by head or spine trauma -- have grown from fewer than 5,000 in 1980 to 26,000 to 28,000 per year in the last few years, according to Dr. Amy Miller Bohn, a family medicine specialist at the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor. According to the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research, cheerleading accidents account for 65% to 66% of all female catastrophic sports injuries in high school and college.

The problem, Bohn said, is that cheerleading has become a competitive sport, with girls being tossed high into the air, jumping off pyramids and trying other risky stunts, often without adequate supervision.

Laura Jackson was a 14-year-old trying for a spot on the varsity squad when she attempted a back flip without a trained spotter on hand. She landed on her head, fractured her neck and damaged her spinal cord. She is now paralyzed and breathes with the help of a ventilator. Jackson's experience is repeated every day around the country, Bohn said today.

She noted that many cheerleading teams practice in back yards or on hard gym floors, with no supportive surfaces to shield them from falls. Many teams also lack effective supervision, with parents or untrained teachers overseeing practices. Bohn called for uniformity of training for coaches and increased use of spring-loaded floors and mats to protect participants.

-- Thomas H. Maugh II

Photo: Laura Jackson was paralyzed in a cheerleading accident.

Credit: University of Michigan