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Georgia cheerleaders, coaches sound off on proposal to make cheerleading a "true sport" - The Red and Black : Sports

Georgia cheerleaders, coaches sound off on proposal to make cheerleading a "true sport"

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Posted: Monday, November 5, 2012 9:33 pm | Updated: 2:53 pm, Mon Nov 12, 2012.

The American Academy of Pediatrics released a statement outlining the concern of increased injuries in cheerleading and ways to prevent them becoming more serious.

But Georgia coaches and cheerleaders are not worried about the heightened concerns because cheerleading is already taken seriously.

"We are treated like a sport here at UGA with our own sports medicine staff and team doctors," Georgia spirit coordinator Ben O'Brien said. "UGA does a good job making sure we are taken care of in terms of safety."

The AAP stressed that in the past 30 years, cheerleading has increased both in popularity and complexity. Cheerleading has mobilized from sideline cheering to center court stunts.

"People hear cheerleader and automatically think pom-poms, which is the basis of what we do," O'Brien said. "Our first role is to be a support squad for the teams we cheer for, but we are also athletes. We practice several days a week, compete in April for a National Championship and work just as hard as other sports."

As cheerleading has shifted to more complex stunts and routines, injuries have been on the rise.

"The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reported 4954 hospital emergency department visits for cheerleading injuries in 1980," according to the policy statement released by the AAP. "By 2007, the Consumer Product Safety Commission reported this number had climbed more than 400% to 26,786."

When asked about serious injuries the Georgia squad has suffered in the past senior cheerleading captain Stephanie Ross said she was not allowed to comment on injuries. O'Brien was able to comment on Georgia's injury report.

"We have not had any extremely serious injuries," O'Brien said. "We have a training staff and our own trainer. Kids go in and get rehab just like any other sport."

The AAP said enforcing heightened coaching qualifications was a way to protect cheerleaders from serious injury.

"To increase safety, the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Advisors and the NFHS have enacted rules and recommendations, including requiring coach training and certification, proper strength and conditioning for all cheerleaders, avoiding stunts and tumbling on hard surfaces, and specific rules for execution of technical skills," according to the AAP's statement.

O'Brien acknowledged the importance of the AACCA's role in improving the safety of the cheerleaders, and sees the requirement as a positive sign.

"In order to be a coach you have to be AACCA certified and take safety courses," O'Brien said. "That is a step in the right direction in terms of getting everyone on board with better safety and rules."

O'Brien said the reason there were not as many serious injuries at the University was because better precautions are taken by the coaches to make sure the cheerleaders are safe.

"With any sport there are progressions you have to go through," O'Brien said. "You have to start with the basics first and then you can move on to more difficult things. Other parts of the country are skipping that basic building block."

One way the AAP outlined as a way to minimize injury was to limit where and how a stunt could be executed. The AAP recommends pyramids be no more than two people high and could only be performed with spotters present. It also recommends pyramids and partner stunts to only be performed on a spring floor with a landing mat on a foam floor or grass turf.

While these limitations sound restrictive, O'Brien is not upset about the recommended regulations.

"If UGA decides to take cheerleading on as a sport, we are obviously going to do what we are told," O'Brien said. "We would compromise whatever we need to compromise, and we would do whatever the athletic association said for us to do."

The cheerleaders also did not express frustration with the recommendations.

"Everything we do is safe. We have a lot of spotters and mats," Ross said. "There are some limits on stunts, and we have worked around it. We would just find other ways to be creative."

Ross said she would like for cheerleading to be defined as a true sport because of all the hard work her and the rest of the squad puts into cheering.

"The dedication is there. It is a team sport and we are working together to achieve a common goal," Ross said. "We workout using weights and have practice two to three times per week. We do hard stuff on the sideline, and I don't see why there isn't a reason to call it a sport."

O'Brien also said he would like to see cheerleading defined as a true sport, not for health reasons, but because of the hard work the cheerleaders accomplish every day.

"It is not so much about getting attention as people understanding that these kids work their butts off," O'Brien said. "In my eyes they are student athletes because I see what they do on a daily basis."

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