Officials say no changes in routine

Published 6:00 am Monday, March 27, 2006

With the increasing popularity and complexity of competitivecheerleading comes a growing number of injuries, some quiteserious.

The sport of cheerleading has been in the news recently with theinjury of a University of Southern Illinois cheerleader at abasketball tournament. The 18 year old lost her balance while atopa human pyramid and tumbled 15 feet onto her head. She suffered aconcussion, a spinal fracture and a bruised lung. She is expectedto fully recover, but for an unknown length of time she must wear aneck and back brace.

In light of the cheerleader’s injuries, many college conferenceshave begun limiting what stunts and when cheerleaders canperform.

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Brookhaven Public School Superintendent Lea Barrett said thedistrict and the board have not been approached with thisparticular issue.

Barrett said the high school’s competitive cheerleaders fallunder the direction of the athletic director and must comply withthe same rules and regulations that other students in the schooldistrict’s athletic programs. They also must comply with rules setdown by the Mississippi High School Athletic Association.

“Safety is a main concern,” Barrett said of the district’sathletes.

Cheerleaders are required to have physicals each year and the12-member competitive squad receives additional training at theMississippi Gym of Dreams, Barrett said.

Although minor injuries have occurred, Barrett didn’t believeany of the district’s cheerleaders have sustained any seriousinjuries while performing.

“The standards are tougher because more emphasis is placed ongymnastics,” Barrett said.

Cheerleading has moved from a spirit team to more of a sportteam, she explained. Barrett said the district has doctors ormedical personnel at all of the sporting events just in case ofinjuries.

Barrett cited one incident where a cheerleader was injuredduring an out-of-town football game. She said although thecheerleader wasn’t seriously injured, she was still taken to alocal hospital for an examination.

Duane Meilstrup, owner and coach at Mississippi Gym of Dreams,said his squads haven’t suffered any major injuries either. Butunlike the public schools, he only requires the parents to discloseany illnesses that may impact a cheerleader’s health and he doesn’trequire a physical examination.

Because of the complexity of routines, Meilstrup makes sure hischeerleaders are protected.

“We try to make sure there are at least three or four girlsunder a flyer each time a stunt is performed,” he said.

A flyer is the person at the top of the pyramid, who usually istossed or dropped from the top down to a waiting group ofcheerleaders on the floor. Sometimes stunts consist of two andthree levels of cheerleaders.