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It's Official: Cheerleading is a Contact Sport

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A former high school cheerleader who sued over injuries caused when a teammate failed to catch her during a routine lost her appeal before the Wisconsin Supreme Court on Tuesday.


The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled Tuesday a cheerleader couldn't sue her teammate.

The seven state justices unanimously concluded cheerleading is a "contact" sport, and therefore neither the male student cited nor the school district was liable for damages.

The opinion also said the stunt in question did not create a "compelling danger" to students.

It is the first legal decision of its kind, according to the National Cheer Safety Foundation, a group founded by parents.

The case was closely watched by school districts and parents around the country concerned about whether they would have immunity from lawsuits involving unintentional injuries from certain extracurricular activities.

Brittany Noffke was a varsity cheerleader at Holmen High School in western Wisconsin. Her team was practicing a "post to hands" stunt before a basketball game in 2004, and after being lifted up to stand on the shoulders of a fellow student, Noffke fell backward, striking her head on the floor.

The 16-year-old male cheerleader who lifted her, and then was supposed to be a spotter, failed to catch her.

The girl's family sued the boy and the school district, claiming the coach was negligent by not having a second spotter and not providing safety mats.

State law does not specifically spell out which high school activities involve "contact," but they typically involve sports such as football or lacrosse in which opposing teams compete against each other.

But the Wisconsin high court concluded that "cheerleading involves a significant amount of physical contact between cheerleaders that at times results in a forceful interaction between the participants."

Justice Annette Ziegler cited the "spirit rules" of the National Federation of State High School Association's handbook, which contained pictures illustrating various cheerleading stunts. She said all but one photo showed at least two cheerleaders in contact with one another.

Because the male cheerleader just made a mistake by being out of place when Noffke fell, the court found he did not act "recklessly," the only legal standard that would have permitted a lawsuit to proceed.

Although it is not considered a sport at many high schools and colleges, cheerleading has grown increasingly popular over the years, and the stunts have become more complex and dangerous, sports injury experts say.

A University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill study found cheerleading accounted for about two-thirds of some 93 "catastrophic" sports injuries -- including head and neck damage -- among high school girls in the past 26 years. But the study noted that other sports such as football produce far more devastating injuries, though fewer in number.

Cheerleading advocates say the activity has become much safer in the past 15 years, following greater awareness of the risks and better coordination among state and national groups.

The American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators estimates about 4 million people are involved in the activity.

Do you think cheerleading is a contact sport? Should cheerleaders be allowed to sue other cheerleaders?

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5 comments so far | Post a comment now
Kirstie January 29, 2009, 8:55 PM

Cheerleading can most definitely be dangerous - I cheered for eleven years and was both injured myself and watched others get hurt as well. I’ve got permanent damage to my knee from a stunt fall … but SUING? Come on. You know what you signed up for - falling is a natural risk of stunting.

steve February 3, 2009, 12:31 AM

The blow to the jaw, boxers “Glass Jaw” and the work of a Tufts Temporal Mandibular Specialist, must be recognized when considering this type of concussion. Why do some athletes become “prone” to recurrence. A diagnosable marker in “prone” N.E. Patriot Players and random sampling of Massachusetts High school athletes have shown in three peer reviewed papers, to have a drastic reduction in recurrence in concussion from blows to the jaw. A Braintree soldier on his way to remove IED from the roads of Iraq has had this marker, a dime sized cartilage disc within the TMJ, corrected and has been fitted with the same orthotic retainer like mouth guard used by our local football team. Yet, the rest of his platoon will not be protected by this ADA approved oral protection, because the NFL and local institutions have not considered this procedure as real science. One peer reviewed paper stated, 30 kids had 50 concussions, when corrected and fitted, the same group had only three in the group. Another reads, 12 N.E. Patriot players with multiple concussions, one reports four, after fitting none reported. Dementia Pugilistica or CTP related brain disease is thought to be a result of repeated jaw blows. One player in the B.U. study who wore this device and has no reported CPT, it was stated on WEEI, “I don’t have those white spots on my brain”, another CPT suffer repeatedly comments, one on CNN “I got kicked in the chin”. This marker within the jaw joint may be the mechanism that triggers the point of origin for this type of concussion. Blows to the spinal cord and crown of the head, are a different type of trauma. This
“superior” method of constructing a biomechnic correction is clearly a better way of addressing concussion with a multidisciplinary approach to concussion awareness. Waiting for a child to have a concussion, is foolish, any known means of prevention must be considered. With a history of use within the NFL for over two decades, now being reviewed by the NHL medical committee and a subject of controversy with the commissioner of the NFL. More attention must be put on this device now thought to be one way of reducing MTBI in our troops.
Mark Picot
Executive Vice President
Mahercor Laboratories, LLC

Aygvurci June 22, 2009, 5:27 PM

WqkpWp comment3 ,

Sports January 6, 2011, 2:00 PM

No, it is not full time, and they don’t even get paid much. It’s like a side job.

Collen Blaida January 16, 2011, 6:08 AM

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