Former Medford resident Kimberly Archie hopes that stricter standards will be legislated for cheerleading safety. Her daughter, Tiffani, shown in this 2006 photo, was injured while she was a member of NMHS’s cheer squad.

Three cheers for cheerleader safety

In the year since Kimberly Archie founded a nonprofit organization to shed light on the lack of national safety regulations for high school cheer squads, the mother of a former North Medford High School cheerleader has helped place cheerleader safety concerns on the national radar.

Archie, who now lives in Riverside, Calif., helped form the National Cheer Safety Foundation in January out of a support group of cheerleader parents called the Bring It On Safety Alliance.

The foundation's spotlight on increasing cheerleader injuries and the absence of safety regulations in some states has made its way into the New York Times, the Washington Post, Time Magazine, ABC News, Canada's CBC News and the London Telegraph, among other news networks and publications. People magazine also is working on a spread about cheer safety and interviewed Archie and co-founder Ruth Burns, whose daughter, Ashley, died in a cheerleading accident, for the article.

"I am sad that so many kids have been injured before we could get to the national spotlight, but I am relieved that people are more aware so parents can make adjustments and decisions about their kids," Archie said.

Archie's daughter, Tiffani Bright, who graduated from North Medford in 2006, wears a metal plate in her left forearm from an injury she suffered in 2003 while doing a back handspring on a trampoline during a tumbling class at a local cheer gym.

An employee at the gym allowed another cheerleader on the trampoline while Bright was landing, causing Bright to land improperly and break her forearm, Archie said.

Archie began a support group for cheerleader parents in 2006 with Pete Buczek, whose daughter fractured her skull in 2003 after being tossed 20 feet in the air (She has since recovered).

That same year, Buczek helped convince the Indiana legislature to pass a law calling for the state to devise new safety rules.

The National Cheer Safety Foundation hopes to do something similar on the national level. The foundation is calling for Congress to establish a sports injury commission that would regulate cheerleading as a sport.

"We hope that will translate into equal safety precautions for all sports across the board," Archie said. "Right now cheerleading is the least regulated and most extreme high school activity."

About two-thirds of catastrophic incidents (those that involve death or serious injury) among high school and college female athletes involved cheerleading, according to the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

Between 1982 and 2007 there were 93 catastrophic incidents among females athletes in high school and college, but that number could be incomplete because the center gathers its numbers largely from news reports, said center director Fred Mueller. There is no state or national reporting system for catastrophic injuries among high school athletes.

Injuries as a whole appear to be increasing, based on research by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The commission estimates the number of emergency room visits for cheerleading injuries grew from 4,954 in 1980 to 28,414 in 2004 based on responses from 114 hospitals.

"Cheerleading has gone from a sideline activity to a sport of its own, and it needs to be governed as such," Archie said.

Currently, only 25 states regulate cheerleading as a sport, Mueller said. In Oregon, cheerleading is not designated as a sport, but high school cheer squads are required to follow the regulations established by the National Federation of State High School Associations.

Unlike some states, Oregon also requires high school cheer coaches to attend safety clinics outlining the federation's rules, said Mike Wallmark, associate executive director of the Oregon School Activities Association, which makes rules for high school competitive activities.

The federation's rules, the most commonly adopted set of regulations for cheerleaders, have been available since 1987 and are updated annually. The rules include items such as what stunts are permitted, appropriate apparel, eligibility for participation, toss height limitations and surfaces on which stunts can be performed.

The problem is, states are not required to adopt them, Archie said.

Archie and other critics also contend that the federation's rules don't go far enough. For instance, the rules encourage cheerleaders to undergo medical screening, but don't require it, Archie said.

"You can still throw a kid as high as you want in a basket toss," she added. "It's allowed."

The National Federation of State High School Associations did not immediately return a phone call Monday seeking comment.

Archie said she receives calls and e-mails daily from parents sharing stories and asking questions about cheerleader safety.

"Those stories continue to fuel my passion long after my daughter's injuries healed," Archie said.

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