Ashley Burns died from a ruptured spleen suffered while performing a cheerleading stunt. Ruth Burns, the mother of the teenager, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the East Elite Cheer Gym, a facility in Tewksbury, MA where Ashley was receiving instruction with the Medford High School cheerleading team. The U.S. All Star Federation for Cheer and Dance Teams and the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators, which are accrediting organizations, also were named in the lawsuit, among other Defendants. Mrs. Burns in filing the lawsuit hopes it will lead to national standards for cheerleading safety to prevent further deaths or injuries. The cheerleading industry is a $2 billion industry nationwide.

Ashley was a “flyer” who was “popped” up by two cheerleaders serving as bases and attempted to perform an arabesque double-twist dismount, but fell. Cheerleaders are at risk of serious injury and even death because of the stunts they perform. There have been a tremendous number of serious injuries and some deaths in the United States involving cheerleaders.

For high school girls and college women, cheerleading is far more dangerous than any other sport, according to a new report that adds several previously unreported cases of serious injuries to a growing list. High school cheerleading accounted for 65.1% of all catastrophic sports injuries among high school females over the past 25 years, according to an annual report released in August by the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research. The new estimate is up from 55% in last year’s study. The researchers say that the true number of cheerleading injuries appears to be higher than they had previously thought. The report counts only fatal, disabling and serious injuries.

The statistics are equally grim in college, where cheerleading accounted for 66.7% of all female sports catastrophic injuries, compared to the past estimate of 59.4%. Catastrophic injuries to female athletes have increased over the years, since the first report was published in 1982. A major factor in this increase has been the change in cheerleading activity, which now involves “gymnastic-type stunts,” according to Dr. Frederick O. Mueller, lead researcher on the new report and a professor of exercise and sports science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. Mueller observed:

If these cheerleading activities are not taught by a competent coach and keep increasing in difficulty, catastrophic injuries will continue to be a part of cheerleading.

Less than catastrophic injuries are vastly more common and they occur at much younger ages, too. Children ages five to 18 admitted to hospitals for cheerleading injuries in the United States jumped from 10,900 in 1990 to 22,900 in 2002, according to research published in the journal Pediatrics in 2006. The new report found that between 1982 and 2007, there were 103 fatal, disabling or serious injuries recorded among female high school athletes, with 67 occurring in cheerleading. The next most dangerous sports were gymnastics with nine such injuries and track with seven. Among college athletes, there have been 39 of these severe injuries: 26 in cheerleading, followed by three in field hockey and two each in lacrosse and gymnastics. The report also notes that according to the NCAA’s insurance program, 25% of money spent on student athlete injuries in 2005 resulted from cheerleading.

In 2007, however, only two catastrophic injuries to female high school cheerleaders were reported, down from ten in the previous season and the lowest number since 2001. Yet there were three catastrophic injuries to college-level participants, up from one in 2006. According to the report referred to above, almost 95,200 female students take part in high school cheerleading annually, along with about 2,150 males. College participation numbers are hard to find since cheerleading is not an NCAA sport. Hopefully, the lawsuit filed by Ashley’s mother will help bring attention to a most serious area of concern.

Source: Boston Herald and Associated Press

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