Cheerleaders test athleticism

Hidden beneath Crystal Williams’ tiny, pixie-like frame, high-pitched voice and bubbly personality is a battle-hardened athlete.

Williams, a junior from Rockledge, has accumulated a series of injuries including whiplash in her neck, a spinal injury in her lower back, broken both ankles, suffered various wrist injuries, as well as “other little minor bruises, busted lips, and black eyes” since her freshman year in high school.

Injuries such as Williams’ have led to changes in American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators safety legislation. Some of these changes include a 2006 blanket ban on basket tosses on anything but a grassy or matted surface, and a 2008 law restricting the use of twisting dismounts.

A basket toss is a cheerleading stunt involving three or more bases that toss the flyer into the air.

Williams, despite her injuries, is very vocal when discussing this legislation.

“As far as [basket tosses] go, it’s only because this girl fell at the University of Florida,” Williams said. “They just passed that law all around, which is unfair and just ridiculous.

What we do is irrelevant to what they do…just because they can’t control their landings doesn’t mean the whole state, the whole country has to be punished.”

Fellow teammate Devon Baker, a senior from Miami, also asserted his disdain for what he feels is a discriminatory law.

“For me, a twist down or a basket toss is like someone doing a fabulous tackle or something, but [they’re] not taking that out of football,” Baker said. “[They’re] not taking fouls out of basketball games.”

While the AACCA prides itself on being an association dedicated to “[improving] cheerleading safety through coach’s education and safety rules,” Baker feels as if there are ulterior motives for passing the legislation.

“I don’t think [safety] is a justifiable answer, I think it’s more of a cop-out answer to not want to pay for certain injuries,” Baker said.  “Like I said, people are getting hurt in football all the time.”  

Strength and conditioning coach Anthony Harvey insisted that the training schedule that the cheerleading team is on this season consists of specific exercises to prevent injuries, targeting wrists and ankles and building upper and lower body strength.

“If you have them healthy, then you have it to where injuries don’t happen as often,” said head coach Brandy Tatum, advocating Harvey’s workout plan. “We try to do injury prevention as much as we can. It’s required for them to have insurance [and] spot around everything that’s new, making sure we have hands there to catch, because stunts aren’t always going to come down the way you want [them] to.”

Tatum stressed the importance of injury prevention in her program, adding that as a coach, she attends AACCA training camps for coaches that teach new coaching techniques as well as keeps them abreast on safety rules and regulations.

In her five years of coaching, Tatum says she has only seen “two broken arms, one sprained arm, and a broken ankle.”

“We don’t have helmets, and we don’t have pads,” Williams said. “We just have our bodies and our hands to guide our face, which is why we’re very cautious about what we do.”

However, while Tatum supports the safety aspect of the AACCA’s legislation, she said that it is up to the schools to support the legislation to keep teams in regulation.

“When [the AACCA] puts those guidelines in place we need to make sure that schools buy into that as well,” Tatum said. “We’re trying to raise money for mats so we can be in safety regulation. They cost about $6,500 for what we would need, but in order for us to prevent serious bodily injuries we would need those mats.”