New law strengthens safety training for high school cheer
(Calif.) Beginning this year, schools with competitive cheer teams must ensure coaches meet all the same safety training requirements as those who coach any other interscholastic sport in California.
The mandate is the result of a 2015 bill that required the California Interscholastic Federation and the California Department of Education to develop guidelines, procedures and safety standards for high school cheerleading–thereby making competitive cheerleading an official high school sport.
As a result, those who coach certain types of competitive cheer must now complete training that includes courses on concussions, first aid and CPR.
The more rigorous training will only be required of coaches who oversee teams that go out and compete against other cheer teams–often performing more dangerous stunts with a higher risk of injury
“Health and safety is paramount with us for all of our student athletes across the board, whether it’s football, soccer, or volleyball or any other official sport,” explained Rebecca Brutlag, CIF spokeswoman. “Now, traditional competitive and competitive sport cheer will fall under those guidelines.”
As participation in cheer has increased, so have the number of both minor and serious injuries, which can include fractures, spinal damage, concussions and even paralysis. Cheerleading injuries account for approximately two-thirds of all catastrophic sports-related injuries involving female high school athletes, according to a 2013 report from researchers at the University of North Carolina. In 2011, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission found that cheerleading injuries resulted in almost 37,000 emergency room visits each year–an increase of nearly 400 percent since 1980.
Now, coaches of competitive high school cheer will be required to complete a safety education program that emphasizes a philosophy of safety awareness; understanding and assessing legal liability in cheerleading; knowledge of cheerleading safety equipment including apparel and training aids such as spotting belts and mats; spotting techniques for tumbling and partner stunts; skill progressions for tumbling, partner stunts, and pyramids; physical and psychological performer readiness; and medical responsibilities, including injury prevention, the development of an emergency plan, and the assessment, treatment, and rehabilitation of injuries.
The new requirements will only apply to two types of cheerleading: traditional competitive cheer and competitive sport cheer. In traditional competitive cheer, teams compete by performing routines and receiving scores for difficulty and performance. In competitive sport cheer, teams perform the same routine side-by-side with another team in four separate rounds.
While the CIF recommends the same level of safety training for coaches overseeing sideline cheer–in which students cheer during basketball or football games or raise school spirit–it is not mandated.
There are currently 468 schools with competitive cheer teams with more than 12,000 student athletes participating, according to the 2017 CIF Sports Participation Survey. Nearly 200 of those schools have boys on their teams, accounting for more than 450 participants.
AB 949 also required the CIF to seek a Title IX compliance designation from the United States Department of Education Office for Civil Rights for competition cheer, but the civil rights office hasn’t yet recognized competitive cheer as a sport, Brutlag said.