Increase in cheerleader concussion numbers reflect better reporting

This was a story done with a team. The story is about cheerleading and concussions.

By: Calli Luna, Zack Newman and Mitchel Summers

The dangers in cheerleading are not new. When cheerleaders are flipping and twisting through the air they could get an injury in the process.  

Abbey Webster is a senior cheerleader at Hickman High School. Her senior year has been filled with Friday night football games and cheer competitions. Webster made the varsity cheerleading team as a freshman and became captain in her senior year. That same year, she sustained several head injuries that ultimately led to a more serious concussion. When she initially hit her head she said she pushed it to the back of her mind because she was too focused on the team’s upcoming state competition.

“I had this headache and I didn’t really think much about it, until we started our school day and then I kind of like realized, wow I’m pretty dizzy and don’t really know where I am. But it wasn’t anything extreme that made me think ‘you have a concussion’,” Webster said.

In fall of 2011, the Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHSAA) tightened specifications on how head injuries are reported, in accordance with the Interscholastic Youth Sports Brain Injury Prevention Act. With putting this act in place, this makes coaches and students more aware of what a head injury looks like. The law mandates schools to submit annual reports of the number of head injuries sustained in each sport or activity. There are not more concussions in cheerleading, but reporting now recognizes the severity of the issue.

The major difficulty with concussions is that they are not visible. Hickman varsity cheerleading coach, Molly Lyman, said she asks her cheerleaders certain questions when they have been hit in their head.

“Usually the questions that I ask [are] ‘are you dizzy?’, ‘are you seeing spots?’, ‘does your head hurt?’, ‘are you feeling sick?’ and I will check [with] them on that quite often,” Lyman said.

Along with the increase in awareness, some schools have full-time trainers that help ensure that the students are being safe. Lyman said the trainers have made a big change in how the reporting of a concussion happens, because in the past she would only notify the cheerleader’s parents if that student hit their head.

Now Lyman notifies the trainer at the school and the student must go through a series of tests before being able to return to practice or perform. Certified athletic trainer Stefanie West works at Hickman High School. She said the tests have improved. West said the research has developed and that’s led to the evolving tests.

The reporting and awareness of head injuries has increased which has brought changes to schools and how they handle concussions. Cheerleaders, like Webster, have resources and people around them knowledgeable about concussions, like Lyman and West. This helps them to identify head injuries.