5 Worst Cheerleading Accidents and Their Tragic Stories

Is cheerleading all about pompoms and girls kicking in the air with smiling faces? That’s what many people think about cheerleading. They refuse to take it seriously and are perhaps unaware of how things might take a nasty turn during a cheerleading event.

Whatever you see on screen or at sports events looks visually captivating but has the risk of tragic accidents too. You may be wondering whether cheerleading can be dangerous then. Yes, cheerleading can be as dangerous as any other form of sports. Carelessness can result in fatal accidents too. There have been many accidents in the recent history of cheerleading with grave consequences. There are risks involved in the stunts, and even a small wrong move can break the neck or hit the chest too badly.

Like every form of athletic events, cheerleading involves risks, which is why there is no place for carelessness here. 

Let us look in detail about why cheerleading is dangerous and list the 5 worst cheerleading accidents.

Is Cheerleading Dangerous?

Is Cheerleading Dangerous

A sport like football has often been in the news for fatal accidents such as an accidental kick in the chest or head injuries. But cheerleading is no less of a concern, as it may lead to grave injuries requiring immediate hospitalization. Studies report cheerleading in the top 16 list of sports with the greatest injuries.

The types of injuries involved in cheerleading can result in long-term complications, disability, paralysis, or even death. Over the last 20 years, there have been several cases of injuries suffered by cheerleaders during an event. Head and neck injuries are most common in cheerleading. 

We must realize that cheerleading is not just about waving pompoms. There are difficult stunts like tumbling, flipping, pyramid formation, throwing someone into the air, and catching her back. The last one is the most dangerous of the lot.

Throwing someone in the air and trusting three to four teenage cheerleaders to catch her back can take a frightening turn with the slightest mistake. If the cheerleader doesn’t land properly, there can be a neck injury or even a fracture. 

Read more: Can Cheerleaders Wear Glasses? Can Glasses Cause Problems?

Over the years, cheerleading has evolved into a sport as serious as any athletic event. It is not just confined to rooting for a team. Competitive cheerleading has made it an intense sport and not merely a soft, dancing event with energetic music.

What Is The Most Dangerous Stunt In Cheerleading?

What Is The Most Dangerous Stunt In Cheerleading

Cheerleading involves dangerous choreography involving complicated acrobatic movements and gymnastics. These moves require intense practice under a trained and certified coach. Most of the time, the teams fail to abide by safety precautions. Even the slightest mistakes can lead to unthinkable accidents. 

Some of the riskiest stunts performed in recent cheerleading events and competitions are:

Back Flip

A backflip can turn serious if the cheerleader loses her balance and lands on her head. It can crack the skull in case of a hard fall or even fracture the neck. 

Human Pyramids

The second-most dangerous stunt in cheerleading is the human pyramid. Flyers, or the cheer girls on the top of the pyramid, remain at the greatest risk of falling straight on their heads. These girls must hold their weight and support themselves on top, which is extremely risky if the people in the middle fail to maintain the balance.

Even the girls at the base can suffer spine damage when the other team members fall over them. There have been several cases of neck and spinal injuries due to a fall from the pyramid formation. 

Throwing and Catching

Female cheerleaders perform stunts where the flyers are thrown into the air. They can be tossed as high as 20 feet in the air, where they perform flips. Three to four cheerleaders are assigned to catch the flier with their arms.

Even a slight loss in balance can make the flier land on her back or head and immediately fracture the neck and spine. It is one of the most threatening stunts in cheerleading and had led to 90% of the injuries and accidents. 

Types Of Injuries From Cheerleading

Cheerleading mainly results in the following types of injuries:

Neck Injuries

Tumbling, flipping, and performing stunts can badly injure the neck if the cheerleader misses a smooth landing. There have been enough cases of neck fracture or terrible sprains from an accidental landing. 

Ankle Injuries

Young girls performing the jumps and flips in competitive cheerleading can injure their ankles often. It can sprain their ankles, tear the ligaments, or even lead to fracture at the joints. Young girls with weak bones are more susceptible to injuries. 

Types Of Injuries From Cheerleading

Knee Injuries

When a cheerleader fails to land properly during a tumble or from a pyramid stunt, it can badly jolt the knees. The ligaments in the knee suffer acute strain and may tear as well. The type of ligament tears and sprains in the knee can range from mild to severe, depending upon the impact. 

Chest Injuries

 A kick in the chest by a fellow cheerleader can be as dangerous as a collision in a game of football. These injuries can often be fatal in nature, requiring immediate medical attention. 

Wrist Injuries

When you fall in a sport due to accidental landing, the first instinct is to support the body with your hands. This puts an impact on the wrists, which can suffer great damage. If the impact is too hard, there can be severe sprains, dislocation, or even fracture. 

Concussions

One of the most common and grave injuries suffered by cheerleaders are concussions and other types of head injuries. Flyers, or those cheerleaders at the top of the stunts or the base of a pyramid, are most likely to suffer concussions if they fall badly.

Has Cheerleading Led To Deaths And Tragic Accidents?

Cheerleading leads to thousands of accidents every year. Many teenagers often suffer life-changing injuries that are either fatal or lead to disabilities. There have been several reports of accidents as tragic as that of Laura Jackson. Let’s learn 5 such tragic accidents which shocked the cheerleading world.

1. Laura Jackson

At the age of 14, she was practicing back handspring for the cheerleading squad. She fell backward accidentally while trying to perform and lost her balance. She landed so hard on her head that her scalp cracked badly. She lay bleeding and gasping for breath till the ambulance reached her. Her vertebrae had completely broken, and it ensured that she could never walk again for the rest of her life. She became ventilator-dependent and is a quadriplegic. 

In the last 30 years, the most catastrophic sports injuries have been associated with football, accounting for almost 97%. In the 28th annual report of the National Center For Catastrophic Sport Injury Research, the number of cheerleading victims was quite high. Almost two-thirds of these catastrophic injury victims were female athletes in high school cheerleading teams. 

2. Ashley Burns

In 2005, a teenage cheerleader, Ashley Burns, died after being struck in the chest by a fellow cheerleader while she fell during a stunt. It critically hurt her spleen, leading to her death within hours. 

3. Jessica Smith

In 2006, Jessica Smith, a Californian cheerleader, was performing for the Sacramento City College team. She had to perform a handstand, and then her teammates would throw her into the air and catch her back. She knew that she would be landing safely in the arms of her teammates.

But a tragic accident made her fall from a height of 15 feet, almost killing her. The person who was assigned to catch her lost balance, and Jessica landed straight on her head. She fractured her spine and was extremely lucky to be a millimeter away from being permanently paralyzed. It was no short of a miracle that she is alive.

4. Lauren Chang

In 2008, another 20-year old cheerleader Lauren Chang suffered a fatal chest injury after being kicked in the chest accidentally by a cheer girl in the team while performing the basket catch.

5. Patty Phommanyvong

Patty Phommanyvong was a 17-year old teenage cheerleader cheering for the Marshall High School team. During a catching stunt, she got badly hit in her chest, and her heart stopped pumping. It took quite a long time for the ambulance to arrive and rush her to the hospital. By then, the lack of oxygen in the body seriously damaged Patty’s brain. The brain injury left her completely paralyzed for life. 

Final Thoughts

Parents putting their children into cheerleading at an early age must be aware of these risks. Cheerleading is no longer the soft event featuring good-looking girls dancing and rooting for teams. It has had a complete makeover from the time you were in high-school and were fascinated by the cheer girls in bright costumes and props.

Over the last 30 years, it has become a serious athletic event, with its own share of sports injuries. Some of these injuries and accidents have been quite tragic and led to an untimely end of young, exuberant lives.  

 It is also important for the coaches to train the team well before leading them to perform any kind of stunt. They must abide by all the safety precautions to all extents, especially because cheerleading involves teenage girls. 

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