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A Youngstown State University cheerleader is battling repeated concussions.
Jeri Wethli, a sophomore, elaborated on her journey to an Ohio news outlet.
“At first I kind of tried to play it off and pretend like it didn’t happen,” Wethli told The Vindicator about her first concussion. “I was at work, and I wasn’t feeling well — like I was dizzy. I had a really bad headache. I couldn’t see straight. So I knew I had a concussion.”
A second concussion forced her to hang up her uniform for the rest of the year.
After getting her diagnosis, Wethli said she “didn’t think or speak the entire ride back to Youngstown. Everything was blank. It was one of those drives when you get to your destination and don’t remember the entire drive there.”
The American Medical Association has adopted a policy at its annual meeting in Chicago that designates cheerleading as a sport.
The decision, based on the rigorous and dangerous nature of cheer, will open the door for the introduction of more safety measures that would prevent concussions and training of coaches.
About a year ago, we posted a related story that offered advice for preventing concussion in cheer. It quoted Neil N. Jasey, M.D., Director of Brain Injury Rehabilitation at Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation, in West Orange, N.J.
“We see a wide range of injuries, from strains and sprains to the ankle, knee and wrist to serious neck and back injuries, as well as a concerning number of concussions,” he said.
Of significant note is that “According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, fast-paced floor routines and physically demanding stunts, including pyramid-building, flips and aerial exercises, account for 42% to 60% of all injuries and 96% of all concussions.” And those are numbers that may well increase with time.
Just as in other contact sports, it’s time in the sport of cheerleading to place more emphasis on proper training, taking the necessary precautions, and avoiding unnecessary risks. Above all, hiding an injury and getting back on top of that pyramid may be macho, but the long term effects can be devastating.
The Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation offers the following safety tips to keep cheerleaders on the floor or on the sidelines:
• Begin training well in advance of the season, maintain a healthy diet and get adequate rest.
• Practice areas should have a softer surface or make use of mats for learning new routines.
• Don’t rush. Perfect lower-level and less complicated skills before moving on to more difficult ones. Attempting a stunt beyond one’s skill level is foolish.
• Stretching is important—before and after a practice, game or event.
• Footwear is important. Wear shoes properly fitted, with rubber-soles that provide adequate cushioning and support.
• Whether practice or competition, address any pain factor you encounter. Immediately get appropriate medical attention.
• Remember, when it comes to concussions, the signs may not present themselves immediately. Err on the sign of caution. Get checked out at once.
• A pre-season physical that includes a cognitive assessment, such as ImPACT testing, should be performed. Establishing a baseline “point of reference” can greatly simply the diagnosis of a brain injury.
The Londoner, an Ontario, Canada newspaper, recently reported on the lack of risk assessment in the sport of cheerleading. According to the paper, recent injuries sustained by cheerleaders have served to remind us that cheerleading is, indeed, a sport- just like football, basketball and hockey. However, according to David-Lee Tracey, a long time Saunders Sabres high school cheerleading coach, many perceive cheerleading injuries as being “somehow different and worse than those of athletes in ‘real’ sports.”
Tracey told the paper that “when a rugby player gets a concussion, she was ‘playing hard.’ When a cheerleader gets a concussion, the sport, the coach, the school all come under fire. It’s like we don’t have the same right to ‘play hard’ – or our injuries are somehow different and worse than those of athletes in ‘real’ sports – traditional contact sports.”
In response to the rising incidence of concussions and other injuries, the paper noted that one school board decreed that its high school cheerleading teams cannot compete at events, unless parents sign waivers absolving the school district of responsibility.