Football players without helmets

Don’t let the sparkly bows fool you: these girls are tough. Look out, Coach Kurz.


Photo Credit: Libeso Photography

Cheerleader Sophia Arnao, cheerleading as a flyer, performs a stunt with the help from her bases. Recently, Arnao has transitioned to a base spot on the team.

by Michelle DeMaria, Staff Writer

A “THWAP” echoes the gymnasium as the human flyer falls to the floor. Her teammates crowd around her as she clutches her arm in pain, tears streaming down her face. Hours later, she sits with her doctor as he explains that she has partially torn her UCL, a ligament inside her elbow. Her bone is bruised and she has a joint contusion, which will ultimately put her out of games for the rest of the season.

All it took for junior cheerleader Caitlyn Drace’s season to dissipate into thin air, as described by returning varsity teammate Katie Trahan, was a one-time “freak accident” two weeks ago. Although it isn’t unusual for flyers to fall out of stunts, Drace had never worried about falling.

“My teammates always catch me,” Drace, the third-year returning-varsity cheerleader, said. “[I] happened [to] fall forwards, so it wasn’t possible for [my teammates] to catch me.” As she put her arm out to fall, her elbow hyper-extended, causing liquids to form, and her dreams of flying under the newly-installed lights at the upcoming Friday Night game to come crashing down with her.

Drace is not the only cheerleader who has gotten injured by the danger of stunting. Her injury falls within the pantheon of other common injuries to cheerleaders.

Athletic trainer Susan Geisemann has seen almost all of them.

“Concussions,” Geisemann said, beginning a list, “Some contusions… last year we had some stitches, we had a broken nose.”

All of these injuries were caused by stunting, according to Geisemann.

Last season, Trahan recalls multiple accidents that had left girls with concussions, and Giesemann said that she sees roughly five to ten cheerleaders in her office, during the course of only one week, during preseason.

It isn’t the well-rehearsed sideline routines and jumps that leave many of these girls with head injuries. It’s the stunts.

“The fliers will get concussions because they are falling [down] and hitting their head on the mat, or even their teammate,” Giesemann said of previous accidents.

When these mishaps occur and fliers fall, those underneath who try to catch them can save their teammate from injury but put themselves at risk. “It’s not just fliers,” Giesemann explains. “Back spots are using their body at all cost to potentially stop them.” According to a 2009 national study on stunt related injuries in high school cheerleading, most of the injuries occurred while the cheerleader was basing or spotting for another participant.

A “base” of the pyramid, Sophia Arnao (’17), who has cheered varsity with Drace from ninth to eleventh grade, feels the pressure of catching her friends.

“I feel like the safety of the fliers are really in our hands. One little mistake can lead to such a serious injury,” said Arnao, talking about Drace’s injury. “Before I stunt, I am always nervous. I have had a few bad injuries, but I am also confident in my stunt group.”

The confidence that these cheerleaders build with their squad is not without support.  Geisemann says that, throughout the season, she has seen a declining number of concussions from cheerleaders.

“In the beginning of the season, I sometimes see more cheerleaders with concussions than football players, but by the end of the season you don’t see these injuries as much,” Geisemann said.

Such a decline in injuries could potentially be explained by practice, a growing familiarity with their teammates’ habits, or increased safety measures by participants.

Knowing the danger of what could happen if mistake are made during stunting, the girls take cheerleading very seriously. They put time in, and they like to see their hard work pay off by pleasing the fans with an exciting halftime show and impressive tricks.

“We’re trying more intense stunts than [we] used to do,” Trahan said. “We’re doing more lifting, and it’s becoming more dangerous. It’s more of a sport now. We’re not just doing cheers on the sidelines for the football team.”