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Three Cheers for Safety and Prevention!

Athletic Training

Fun Fact: My sophomore through senior years at University of Delaware were spent living with UD’s varsity, national champion cheerleaders. They were always in phenomenal shape, enthusiastic, and encouraging even off the field, court and mat. I used to love watching my roommates get tossed 2 stories in the air to flip and twist etc. They knew how to work hard and play hard (real hard) and well… we sure had some good times together and I loved to watch them cheer.

But now… I think I’m retiring from personally covering sports which make me cringe in fear that someone is going hit the ground or mat after being hurled 20 feet into the air. On top of this, I’ve experienced a few occasions while covering cheer-leading where things just haven’t seemed to be very safe.

Here’s what happened:

Last winter, I was covering a youth/high school meet. A visiting youth cheerleader, with tears in her eyes, approached me for ice . She was closely followed by 2 nervous looking, young coaches who could not have been older than 16-18 years old. I ask what the ice is for and she says “My elbow, I hurt it today during warm-ups”. Here’s what had happened: While practicing tumbling she felt and heard a pop and had been very sore since. I ask to take a look and when she rolled up her sleeve there were 2 mystery strips of white tape directly on her skin and going around her arm. The first was about 3 inches below the joint and other 2 inches above the joint. Hmmmmmmm. I asked, “Um…. What’s all this?” and her words were: “Oh the coaches put that on for support and to keep everything together.” Riiiiiiiiiight. She was already swollen. I began testing and she had obvious unilateral laxity with pain in the joint. So I called her parents over and calmly explained that a pop and pain can be a sign of a serious injury and that before throwing on a few strips of tape and sending her back out to tumble, she should have been sent to see me. Her parents agreed to take her to the doctor. The two young coaches were very quiet. While probably very nice girls, they had no idea that they were setting this athlete up for an even worse injury or that by “treating” her and then sending her out to compete, they were opening themselves and their school to a lawsuit. These kid-coaches were too young and inexperienced to think about important consequences like these. As an AT this was definitely a teachable moment. It also could have happened with any sport, but it made me think about some of the other events with cheer-leading that I cover.

Youth/PopWarner programs, for example, often utilize high school students as coaches for the cheerleaders, yet they require adult coaches on the football sidelines at all times. Why don’t the cheerleaders get an adult coach? What makes it OK for teenagers to coach a sport that involves lifting, tossing and catching little humans? This is just a story intended to provoke a little thought but here’s the message I’d like to get across:

ATs, if you see something funky (chicken) or unsafe happening on your sidelines at any sport or level, a conversation with the supervisor in charge could prevent future injuries… and that’s our job.

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