Cheerleading: Dangerous Artistry in a Miniskirt
Cheerleaders may look great at a football or basketball game, shaking their colorful pom-poms as they dance, but there’s more to it than that. In fact, few sports are as demanding - or risky - as cheerleading is today.
Cheerleading has changed a lot since the first (male) teams were formed at the end of the 19th century in the U.S. Females were only admitted in the 1920s, but by the 1950s it was a must for every American girl to join a cheerleading team. The sports supported by cheerleaders now include wrestling and hockey as well as basketball and American football.
The sport has also extended its popularity beyond the U.S. For example, here in Germany, cheerleaders first appeared alongside the arrival of American football in the 80s and there are now around 400 cheerleading teams and 20,000 active cheerleaders, of which around 10% are male. The continuing rise in popularity has spawned two associations: the Cheerleader Association Germany (CVD) and the Cheerleader and Cheerdance Association Germany (CCVD).
Competitions have been held since 1978 and next year’s Cheerleading World Championship will take place in Berlin in November 2015, with 1,300 participants from 23 nations participating. In championship meetings such as this, judges evaluate competitors performing compulsory elements, according to the degree of difficulty involved.
To perform routines that combine dance, acrobatics and gymnastics, cheerleaders have to train hard. Strength, balance, fitness and a sense of rhythm are all important.
“Floor” exercises can include handstands, somersaults, back handsprings, balletic jumps or cart wheels. “Stunts” are lifts that must consist of at least two people. A “stunt group” involves several cheerleaders, and two or more connected stunt groups form a “pyramid”. A pyramid can be built up to four body lengths high, and there is no limit to the number of people involved. The cheerleader at the top of the stunt or pyramid is known as a “flyer” – a name not bestowed without good reason.
There’s a flipside to cheerleading's development: It is now one of the most dangerous athletic sports for women. According to the U.S. Sports Academy, cheerleading is number two in the league table of catastrophic injuries in the U.S. Only American football has more frequent and more severe injuries.
The National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research at the University of North Carolina reported that 65.2% of all serious injuries in youth sports in the U.S. are caused by cheerleading.
In contrast to contact sports such as hockey or football, no helmets or other protection are worn. In addition there’s the risk of falls from heights of several meters with a hard landing. On official occasions in stadiums, performances take place on grass or concrete.
Common injuries involve muscle strains or fiber cracks, strained or torn ligaments, vertebral fractures, nasal fractures and concussions. Sometimes fatal accidents occur.
When assessing cheerleading from an underwriting point of view, it’s important to study the details of the case and obtain more information where possible. How intensely will the proposed insured perform? Will the applicant participate in championships or competitions?
No additional charge is required for life insurance - but a small surcharge on disability insurance seems reasonable in view of the changing nature of the sport.