Cheerleading Programs Going All-Out for Safety

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — In a continued effort to improve the standards of cheerleading safety, the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators (AACCA) issued comprehensive recommendations to restrict cheerleading performances during college basketball games and other indoor sports venues July 11.

The recommendations are a result of the AACCA College Safety Rules Committee annual meeting, which reviewed current cheerleading safety initiatives and existing safety rules. Committee membership is comprised of cheerleading coaches, college administrators and industry experts, representing co-ed and all-girl programs in seven college athletic conferences across the nation. Cheerleading can be a relatively low-risk activity when properly supervised, but recent high-profile injuries have raised concerns from college administrators and conference commissioners.

“We are at a crossroads in cheerleading. While many understand the risks involved in cheerleading and how to manage those risks, we must balance that with concerns of college administrators and those that insure the activity,” said AACCA Executive Director Jim Lord. “One short-term solution to limit the risk to cheerleaders is to place specific restrictions on the type of unstructured environment that we find at most basketball and other indoor venues.”

The committee unanimously voted for sweeping revisions to cheerleading safety rules, the most major of which restricts specific upper-level skills during basketball games. Basket tosses, 2½ high pyramids, one-arm stunts, stunts that involve twisting or flipping, and twisting tumbling skills may only be performed during halftime and post-game on a matted surface and are prohibited during game play or time-outs.

“We understand the need for the committee’s decision and with these new rules, Kentucky will focus even more on crowd leadership during basketball games, while still having the opportunity to safely entertain during halftime and post-game in a more structured environment,” said committee member and University of Kentucky cheerleading coach Jomo Thompson.

The committee addressed additional items, including the need for better communication between administrators and spirit programs, an emphasis on specific spotting training, and a renewed focus on safety awareness by all teams. In addition to the rules during basketball games, the committee restricted the performance of all basket tosses and 2½ high pyramids regardless of the sporting event to grass or matted surfaces.

“The National Athletic Trainers Association’s 30,000 members work hand in hand with athletes and cheerleaders every day,” said NATA President Chuck Kimmel, ATC. We are in favor of anything that brings safety to cheerleading and its participants.”

Beginning with the 2006-07 school year, all college coaches are required by the NCAA to have proper safety certification. The rules committee encourages all coaches to receive AACCA safety training prior to any season practice sessions in order to be in compliance with the NCAA directive. Many small college athletic programs associated with the NAIA have also agreed to institute AACCA safety standards.

AACCA College Safety Rules subcommittees will be formed in the near future to study the feasibility of developing targets for participant contact hours, as well as other ways to identify the safety strengths and needs of various collegiate cheer programs.

“Major changes are obviously coming in cheerleading safety,” said Misty Hodges, University of Louisville Cheerleading Coach. “But we must all recognize the real key to a safe cheerleading program relies on responsible and diligent supervision by a safety-certified coach throughout the year at every practice, game and competition.”

AACCA July 11, 2008 press release

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