Article from UTSanDiego.com – written by Lorena Gonzalez Feb. 28, 2015
We woke up at 4:30 a.m. to be at the old wrestling gym at 5 a.m. every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. We practiced until 6:30 in the unheated, chalky old gym with no mats. On Mondays and Wednesdays, we ran a few miles in the afternoon before joining other athletes in the weight room. We had a two-hour run-through at the stadium on Friday, then on game day Saturdays we started performing for alumni tailgates two hours before kickoff, cheered a full game, then returned home around dusk. That was outside of competition season.
We were called many things: Cheerleaders, pom-pom girls, song leaders. Just not athletes.
My experience was as a high school cheerleader in the late 1980s and a collegiate cheerleader in the early 1990s. But as I have seen through my daughter’s experiences in high school, things have only become more demanding as stunts have become tougher and gymnastics have become more difficult and dangerous. Yet the commitment remains. Today in California, high school cheerleaders are still called many things, but still not athletes.
Let’s stop fooling ourselves. Cheerleading is a sport, has been for decades, and it’s time that the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) start treating it that way in our high schools.
While 35 other states, including Texas and New York, have acknowledged reality and officially recognized high school cheerleading as a sport, California officials are dragging their feet. They serve up lame excuses for still labeling cheerleading as just an activity, meaning our state’s cheerleaders don’t earn PE credit, and leaving them completely unregulated, without safety standards, sufficient resources or adequate practice facilities.
Anyone with a passing familiarity with the routines of modern cheer squads has seen that cheerleading is among the most athletically demanding activities in our schools. Unfortunately, it’s also documented as one of the most physically dangerous.
Despite committed coaches and advisers, without clearly established standards, cheerleading doesn’t always receive the resources our kids need. Because cheerleading continues to operate in a poorly regulated gray area, standards for coaching, conditioning and medical care are wildly inconsistent, leaving too many of our kids vulnerable.
As cheerleading and competition have grown, so have the injuries. Cheerleading accounts for 66 percent of all catastrophic injuries among high school female athletes, and the numbers are getting worse. Since 1980, the number of cheerleading injuries has increased sevenfold to more than 38,000 a year — all without an enforced standard for supervision and care.
Making matters worse, because we don’t have an institutional standard of care for these injuries, cheerleaders were treated in a variety of locations — emergency rooms, urgent care, on site, family doctors or simply at home.
Without consistency in how quickly we respond to such injuries, or the level of medical expertise that these student-athletes access, some estimates suggest that the actual number of injuries may be several times higher than what’s officially reported. We must do better to meet our responsibility to take care of students at school.
While policymakers continue to debate, it’s clear that cheerleaders aren’t waiting around for the rest of us. They’re continuing to evolve and push the athletic limits of what their sport can do, which is why I’m introducing legislation this month to give cheerleaders legal support to receive the level of coaching, medical treatment and respect their athletic performance demands.
Setting aside preconceived notions, what we’re talking about with this bill is very simple: direct supervision when practicing and performing acrobatics and stunting; appropriate safety equipment and coaches who are independently certified to teach and supervise stunting safely; certifying coaches in CPR and first aid so they’re prepared to respond to catastrophic injuries like head, neck and back injuries that occur when flying through the air at high speeds. We need emergency response procedures, physical education and annual medical checks for our young student-athletes who participate in this sport.
Old notions of cheerleading have given way to elaborate acrobatics and stunting that weren’t dreamed of a hundred years ago, and it’s time for our respect and protections for cheerleaders to finally catch up. We have the opportunity to finally provide a standard of instruction, athletic training and medical care to keep our kids safe and help them excel, and we can’t let concerns over “how it’s always been” stand in the way of our children’s safety and success. It’s time to make cheerleading a sport.
It’s hard not to ask, if this weren’t a traditional female activity, would we even be having this discussion?
Gonzalez is the 80th District Assembly member and a former Stanford University cheerleader. She resides in City Heights.