America is a country that loves its sports. From baseball to basketball, we cheer for our favorite teams and plan our weekends, grocery lists and parties around “the big game.”
Once upon a time, baseball was the top sport in the U.S., earning the moniker of “America’s pastime.” But over the past two decades, football has emerged as the top-grossing sport in the country. We love the competition, the drama and excitement so much that Super Bowl Sunday is now practically a national holiday.
Lately, however, one of the hot-button topics surrounding football is head injuries and concussions. Rightly, steps are being taken to protect football players in an attempt to minimize the long-term injuries associated with the aggressive sport.
But an underrepresented group of athletes — who play nearly as much a part in the sport as the players — is being overlooked.
Athletes on the Sidelines Can Still Be Injured
It’s hard to imagine a football game without cheerleaders. They’ve been around nearly as long as the game itself. Girls and boys begin cheerleading at the same age that the players begin throwing passes.
But just as in football, the rise in the popularity of cheerleading over the years has unfortunately brought with it a rise in injuries.
Kimberly Archie, this month’s Teach Believe Inspire Award honoree, decided to take matters in her own hands by becoming an advocate for cheerleading and creating the National Cheer Safety Foundation.
Not an ‘Official’ Sport?
In 2003, Archie’s daughter Tiffani Bright was injured in a cheerleading accident. An accident which occurred during a cheer maneuver causing Bright to break her arm in two places. Archie recalls listening to the doctor talk about the implications of the injury as she focused on the timetable for getting her daughter back to cheering. As she began hearing of more and more cheer-related injuries, she noticed the increasing competitive nature of cheerleading. With young girls willing to do anything to win, were there enough safety measures in place?
It turns out cheerleading was not recognized as an official sport in many states. If an activity is not recognized as a sport, there are no official regulations and safety measures.
Archie knew this fact placed young girls at a greater risk for injury. If she could get cheerleading recognized as sport, rather than just an activity, it would create stronger safeguards to help girls and boys avoid injuries.
‘A Sport of Its Own’
With more and more girls becoming cheerleaders across the country, this was a problem that was getting worse, not better. Research done by the Consumer Product Safety Commission estimated the number of emergency room visits by cheerleaders grew from 4,954 in 1980 to 28,414 in 2004. These numbers might not even tell the whole story due to the fact that there is no state or national reporting system for serious injuries among high school students.
“Cheerleading has gone from a sideline activity to a sport of its own, and it needs to be governed as such.” —Kimberly Archie
There were regulations for cheerleaders as established by the National Federation of State High School Associations, but the problem was that high schools were not required to follow them. Some high school cheer coaches are required to attend safety clinics, but it is not a nationally mandated rule.
Until cheerleading is designated as an official high school sport, rather than an activity, these loopholes in safety will continue to exist, putting children at risk of injury.
An Expert Witness
Archie felt she had to do something, so she helped create the National Cheer Safety Foundation. The foundation’s purpose is to reduce injuries for cheerleaders. It also has collected cheer injury data as it has facilitated research into identifying performance risks and developed strategies for keeping athletes safer. The foundation also helps families dealing with the aftermath of a serious injury to a cheerleader.
Through her work and research into cheer injuries, Archie has become one of the leading experts in the field. Since 2007, she has been called in as an expert witness in litigation involving cheerleading injuries in several states across the country. The American Academy for the Advancement of Science has used Archie’s research in their publications on the subject.
For several years, Archie has been working closely with Frederick O. Mueller, Ph.D, an expert on sports injuries. To understand why there has been such a dramatic increase in cheerleader injuries over the past few decades, Mueller points to the obvious differences in cheerleading routines over the years. Even someone who knows nothing about cheerleading can see the huge differences.
Cheerleading: A Contact Sport
Sure, there were cheerleaders on the sidelines of football fields in the 1960s and 70s. But what were they doing? Mostly, they were shaking pompoms and doing small, individual jumps off the ground.
Nowadays, girls are being thrown up to 20 feet in the air as they do flips and turns. Cheerleading has changed from cheering and yelling to amp up the crowd into a full-on competitive contact sport involving gymnastic stunts where girls fly through the air and form dazzling pyramids.
Unfortunately, coaching has not kept up with the changes in cheerleading. Whereas once upon a time, former cheerleaders could adequately coach younger girls, now, a coach must have the training necessary to keep the girls safe in their ever increasing number of potentially dangerous stunts.
Keeping Kids Safe
Over the years since her daughter was injured, Archie has worked tirelessly to make cheerleading safer for student athletes. After recruiting the assistance of Congresswoman Mary Bono, Archie called for a Government Accountability Office investigation into catastrophic injuries in youth sports.
Never underestimate the lengths a mother will go to when one of her children are injured. Kimberly Archie noticed a serious lack of regulations when it came to high school cheerleading and took matters into her own hands. She has worked tirelessly to make cheerleading safer for boys and girls around the country, establishing the National Cheer Safety Foundation and testifying in legal trials across the country.
For the inspirational and incalculable difference she has made in keeping kids across the country safe and accounted for, the Brain Injury Law Center awards Kimberly Archie the Teach Believe Inspire award.