Competitive cheerleading comes with injuries but also many safety regulations

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DENVER -- Watch a practice of the TIGAR All-Star Bengals in Wheat Ridge, and you’ll understand why competitive cheerleading is a sport, requiring some serious athletes.

“It’s difficult, it’s worth it though,” said 14 year old Melissa Fletcher, who competes for TIGAR and her local high school.

In Colorado there are nearly 5,000 athletes in competitive cheerleading, and nationwide the number jumps to more than 400,000. With that popularity and competition comes injuries, but not as many as you might think.

The Colorado School of Public Health at the University of Colorado Anschutz, found that competitive cheerleading is still one of the safest sports for high school athletes.

Improved state regulation, trained coaches and use of safety equipment have helped contribute to an average of less than one injury for every 17 hours spent practicing or competing.

“I don’t feel unsafe, because there’s always somebody there to ensure my safety,” said Maya Paque, one of the TIGAR athletes.

“I mean, we’re throwing girls, 20-30 feet in the air and having to catch them safely,” said TIGAR Cheer Manager Lindsey Tyrrell. “I think that calls for those rules and regulations.”

Though the overall injury numbers are low, the study found that cheerleaders do tend to suffer more serious injuries, which keep them out longer than other sports.  Among Cheerleaders who suffer injury 41% are out 1-3 weeks, which is a percentage than in football. A big factor is that concussions are the most common injury. Concussions make up 31% of all cheerleading injuries.

“I’ve had a couple concussions,” Fletcher said. “Once you get it cleared from the doctor, then you ease back into it.”

The risk of concussion is part of the reason why researchers say it’s critical for coaches to be educated and certified in concussion protocol.

“All of our coaches here are certified and I think most high schools, at this point, are requiring that as well,” Tyrrell said.​