Liability Issues Push Cheerleading Groups to Ban Stunts in Mo.

March 9, 2006

A Southern Illinois University cheerleading accident has spurred on the group that sets standards at the school to call for new restrictions on the types of stunts cheerleaders perform.

The fall from a 15 foot human pyramid tower taken by cheerleader Kristi Yamaoka earlier this week happened during a nationally televised basketball game. The cheerleader suffered a concussion and a fractured neck. Yamaoka, 18, was released from the hospital.

In addition, the accident has spurred on the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators’ to issue an advisory just a day after the Missouri Valley Conference, which includes SIU, barred its cheerleaders from certain aerial or towering stunts during its women’s basketball tournament, which begins today.

The group felt it had dodged a bullet with Yamaoka escaping serious injury, and its director Jim Lord said, “we don’t want to face another situation like that.”

Though the group has no enforcement power, its executive committee has recommended, effective immediately, that college conferences do what the MVC already has done: bar their basketball cheerleaders from basket tosses _ the throwing of a cheerleader into the air _ and high pyramids without the use of a mat.

Lord says cheerleaders likely would not have time to drag mats on and off the court during tournaments without delaying the games.
The NCAA, NAIA and other basketball tournaments require that cheerleading teams conform to American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators safety guidelines.

The group’s rules committee will consider making its recommendations permanent when it meets April 20. The MVC also will revisit in May whether to extend its own ban, that league’s commissioner said Tuesday.

Some schools already have taken action. The University of Nebraska outlawed its cheerleaders from doing pyramids, tumbling and basket tosses after a member of its spirit squad, Tracy Jensen, was paralyzed in 1996 after breaking her neck practicing a handspring.

The Nebraska case underscored that cheerleading injuries often may expose the university and insurers to legal liability: Jensen’s lawsuit against her school resulted in a $2.1 million settlement in 2001. Insurers already had covered hundreds of thousands of dollars in her medical expenses.

In January, a former San Jose State University cheerleader paralyzed in a 2004 accident sued that school and a cheerleading coach, accusing them of reckless disregard for her safety.

Rechelle Sneath was an 18-year-old freshman when, according to her lawsuit, the coach directed her and her teammates to deviate from a routine they had practiced previously and instead try two consecutive “back-tuck basket toss maneuvers,” a more-complex maneuver they’d never tried.

Sneath alleges that after she fell and complained she couldn’t move her legs, the coach moved her legs back and forth in an attempt to help. Doctors later determined that Sneath fractured a vertebra in the accident.

Topics Missouri

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