CBS Story Deceives the Public

CBS Story Deceives the Public

Recently CBS News' Early Show aired a short segment on cheerleading safety ( They interviewed me for 15 to 20 minutes, but reduced my interview to a five-second sound bite taken out of context.  Let's ignore that for a moment and deal with the issues addressed in the CBS piece.

“There is no regulation”

False.  As I told the reporter Ms. Cobiella, while improvements can be made, cheerleading is regulated similarly to football, basketball, softball and other sports.  There is no national regulation of any of those sports.  In secondary schools they are governed by the state high school association which governs athletics and activities following standardized national rules.  While this is the case for cheerleading with most states but not all states, that is different than “no regulation.”  At the college level, they are governed by the NCAA. For non-school teams, they are regulated by their associations such as Pop Warner, Amateur Athletic Union or in the case of cheerleading, the US All Star Federation.

“There is no one rule book”

There is no “one rule book” for any sport. However, there is a consistent set of rules for the different levels of cheerleading like with other sports.  Most state high school associations require that their cheer teams follow NFHS rules as they do with other sports. The NCAA uses the college level rules from the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators. The non-school teams known as “all star” use the US All Star Federation Level Rules.  This is akin to high school gymnastics following the NFHS rules for gymnastics, non-school gymnastics following the rules from USA Gymnastics, and college gymnastics following the rules set by the NCAA.

“…with higher stunts at a younger age and a bigger risk.”

Again, false.  As I explained to Ms. Cobiella and even demonstrated with vintage photographs, cheerleading over the last 20 years has seen dramatic changes in the skills cheerleaders are allowed to perform and the surfaces on which they are allowed to perform them.  College teams are no longer allowed to perform 3-high pyramids and do double flips from them.  High school teams and high school-age all star teams are no longer allowed to perform flipping basket tosses.  All star teams have progressive levels that are also age-based. For example, the youngest cheerleaders are not allowed to do any release moves or aerial tumbling. As with gymnastics, they must demonstrate proficiency before progressing to the next level.

“ high schools and colleges in most states, cheerleading is more like the chess club -- it's considered an activity, not a sport. And often, there's no referee to blow the whistle on dangerous stunts.”

Actually, quite a few states designate cheerleading as a sport. Several others designate it as an “athletic activity” and have higher requirements than their “sport” counterparts. Still others that don't give cheerleading a separate designation still regulate cheerleading and require regular rules meetings, coaches' education and conduct a state championship.  Many states have cheerleading coaches associations which conduct safety education courses and annual conferences where national experts conduct courses in safety, technique and program management.

Which brings us to the 22 words attributed to me out of a 15 to 20 minute interview.

First, my quote:

    "You know what? As bad as this may sound, the parent really is ultimately the person who has to blow that whistle," says Jim Lord, executive director of the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Advisors."

Now, the context.  This quote was given during the discussion of how all sports are regulated. As I explained to Ms. Cobiella, the designation of “sport” doesn't change the importance of the involvement at the local level of the administration, coaches, athletes and parents. There are no “football police” that come around to blow the whistle on football coaches that aren't following the standard of care during practice. That job falls to the athletics director who must know what is going on with athletics in their school.  The only time football or any other sport is regulated by the state association directly is during athletic contests or when an infraction has been brought to their attention – often due to the involvement of a parent.  I was speaking to the fact that in cases where a coach is not following the rules and the administration is not addressing problems, it is up to the parent to take action. It wasn't an indictment of a system used by every sport or athletic activity; it was part of a call for parents to help make sure safety procedures are being followed.  I have requested the entire unedited video interview to be shown on the CBS site.  The last communication I received was that they can put up part of it.  I would like to see the entire video because as I recall, the last part of my comment they used included the phrase “just like in football or basketball.” I believe that part was edited out but I will have to see the entire video to see if there was this level of selective video or if I had just stated that elsewhere in the discussion.

Regardless, my quote was placed in a position to make it look like I agreed with Ms. Cobiella's assertion that there are no regulations.

With over four million cheerleaders participating annually, there are likely to be situations where they are asked to perform skills they aren't ready to perform. Indeed, there may be injuries that could have been avoided or at least mitigated by following the established safety rules and procedures that have been in place since 1987 and are updated annually.  This is precisely why AACCA developed the Cheerleading Safety Course; to help educate coaches and minimize the risk of injury in cheerleading.  Our goal, along with our partners at the National Federation of High Schools, the US All Star Federation and the National Collegiate Athletic Association is to reduce the rate of injury to cheerleaders.

Nearly every cheerleading “safety” article in recent years has used studies that go back over 20 years. That doesn't paint an accurate picture of the current state of cheerleading safety. Over the last few years, injury statistics for cheerleading have not gone up at the same rate as participation. In fact, from 2001 to 2006 emergency room visits went down3% for the high school and college age group (14 – 21).  The NCAA has not had a catastrophic injury claim for a cheerleading injury since it required that all teams were supervised by a safety certified coach.
Everyone has a role to play in safety, including the administrators and gym owners, coaches, athletes and parents. Together, we can continue the recent trends in cheerleading safety even as cheerleading participation increases across the country.

What role do coaches play in safety? As the person directly supervising, the coach has the primary responsibility for safety. They must know the rules for their level and follow them diligently. They must know the standards in place for performer readiness, requiring proficiency before progression, and how to best handle emergencies. They must be able to recognize their own limitations as well as those of the individual athletes. Finally, coaches must establish an understanding that safety is important and that if anyone feels there is a cause for concern that they are allowed to voice it.

What role do administrators play? Whether they are athletics directors or principals in a school setting or whether they are the gym owners in a non-school program, administrators must provide support and oversight of the cheerleading program. They must be familiar with the basic rules and safety procedures in order to evaluate their coaches and their cheer programs. They must hire qualified coaches and have them properly trained not only in risk management techniques like those taught in the AACCA course, but also in instructional techniques of specific skills like partner stunts, pyramids and gymnastics where appropriate.

What role do athletes play? As the person who is directly at risk, cheerleaders must be able to voice their concerns about safety if they feel they are being pushed too hard to do a skill they are not prepared to perform or if there is any other safety concern. They also bear a responsibility to follow the safety rules and progressions and to be attentive when performing skills or spotting them.  If the cheerleader feels that they cannot voice a safety concern to the coach or administration, they should voice it to their parents.

What role do parents play?  A vital one.  In any sport there is only so much that a state association or even a national organization can do. Parents should make sure that their coaches are following established standards, established rules and have the proper training in safety techniques. If a certified athletic trainer is not present, as is the case in many sports, someone on site should be trained in CPR and first aid techniques as a first responder.  There should be an emergency plan in place and everyone should know and have practiced it.  If a coach is not following the rules and is jeopardizing the safety of the participants, parents are often the only ones that can speak up – and they should. If the safety concerns are not addressed by the coach or administration, they should be escalated to the school board. If in the end appropriate changes aren't made, it is the parent's duty to find another place for their child to cheer or find another athletic outlet. This isn't an easy decision to make, but the parent holds the final card in making sure their child is in a safe environment.

These roles aren't only true of cheerleading. They are true for any sport or activity.


Cheerleading safety is too important to be the victim of careless reporting by CBS News or anyone else. Can it be safer, of course. However, there have been tremendous strides made in the past 5 years in all areas of cheerleading to make it safer. To ignore this good work, that has literally touched hundreds of thousands of cheerleaders and coaches,completely misses the point of making safety an important goal and recognizing advancements toward that end.

The US All Star Federation (USASF) and the International All Star Federation (IASF) govern club based cheerleading worldwide. In the past 5 years, the USASF-IASF have offered the following through our over 20,000 members in 30 countries:

   1. Conducted knowledge and skills testing for over 8,000 all star coaches promoting the latest, safest, techniques for teaching cheerleading.
   2. Credentialed over 15,000 all star athletes to promote their ability to safely perform at the skill level in which they were competing.
   3. Annually sanctioned over 600 competitions worldwide to standardize safety procedures and processes.
   4. Developed and promulgated one set of rules accepted for all star cheerleading worldwide.
   5. Certified all star gyms that meet the highest standards of educational safety.
   6. Published All Star Cheer Magazine sent to 5,000 all star gyms quarterly to promote safety and legitimacy.
   7. Offered college scholarships for deserving all star athletes.

Jim Chadwick President US All Star Federation

Since 1935, when the first football rules book was published, the NFHS has been focused on providing rules books for 17 high school sports that are comprehensive, complete, and excellent guides for coaches. The NFHS has continued to have as its first priority the minimizing of risk for our student athletes and increasing safety for the sport. Spirit teams have had the NFHS rules book since the 1988-89 school year and the current rules book is the 21st one published for spirit teams that include cheer, dance, drill and pom. As a result, spirit teams from all over the country have minimized risk by following the NFHS rules book. Over the years we have seen spirit coaches understand the tremendous benefit of this rules book and have developed a greater understanding of the rules and issues required to be a successful, safe coach.

Susan Loomis Spirit Director for the National Association of State High School Associations (NFHS)

Coaching today requires skills and knowledge that can be learned and practice by coaches to ensure that young athletes learn the valuable life lessons that can be acquired in this setting. The NFHS sponsors a comprehensive professional development program for all coaches including coaches of spirit programs that delivers the skills and knowledge necessary to be an effective coach at the interscholastic high school level. The NFHS Coach Education Program can be delivered in face-to-face clinics as well as online. Today’s coaches are entrusted with teaching young people not only sport techniques, but also the skills and principles they need to be successful in life. Coaches need knowledge about their legal duties as a coach, care and prevention of injuries to athletes, drug and alcohol abuse recognition and response, how to communicate with athletes and parents effectively, and how to teach and plan sport skills properly. The NFHS Coach Education Program teaches, through effective courses, all these responsibilities.

Tim Flannery Assistant Director of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS)

Cheerleading in the state of Georgia is an athletic sport. Along with the title of sport has come responsibilities for both coaches and officials. Every coach and community (lay) coach in the state must attend a yearly training session where safety, liability, sportsmanship, NFHS rules, GHSA rules, and competition are covered.

The Georgia Cheerleading Coaches' Association, along with the Georgia High School Association, worked hard to make this a mandatory requirement for every cheerleading coach in the state. Each coach is provided with a GHSA Cheer Manual with the material in the manual. Each school is able to order the NFHS rules book through the GHSA. Coaches and officials are offered the NFHS test to further their training.

Along with this mandatory course, coaches may select to take one or both of the nationally recognized safety courses at the Georgia Cheerleading Coaches' spring conference in March. These courses not only address safety, liability, and program management but also address stunting safety, training, progressions, and choreography. Another conference is held in June where courses may be offered.

To further educate our coaches and to make sure they remain up-to-date we maintain a web-site with interpretations, videos/rules, announcements, and other information pertaining to both officials and coaches. When interpreting stunts we are able to ask members of the NFHS rules committee to review and to provide us with appropriate rulings. This way we are able to confirm that we are on the right track and understand the rules while conveying that message to all of our officials and coaches.

Pam Carter State Cheerleading Coordinator Georgia High School Association
Joyce Kay Assistant Director Georgia High School Association

The Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) believes that safety is at the top of the priority list when it comes to Competitive and Sideline Cheerleading in the State of Florida. This is demonstrated by the requirement for all Competitive Cheerleading head coaches to be Safety Certified by the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators (AACCA). Additionally, all Competitive Cheerleading Teams and Sideline Cheerleading Squads of FHSAA Member Schools are required to follow National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Spirit Rules as noted in S. 1006.18, FLORIDA STATUTES – Safety Standards for Cheerleaders.

In addition to the aforementioned requirements, FHSAA Competitive Cheerleading is held to the same standard as any other FHSAA sport. Annual Rules Presentations must be viewed by the coaches and/or administrator at each member school and specific policies and bylaws set forth by the FHSAA must be met. Furthermore, there are also numerous workshops, courses and conferences hosted in conjunction with the Florida Athletic Coaches Association to provide the most up-to-date safety instruction and certification to Competitive and Sideline Cheerleading coaches and administrators across the state. This instruction and certification is provided by AACCA.

The FHSAA takes great pride in its efforts to keep the student-athletes safety at the forefront when it comes to Competitive and Sideline Cheerleading. As we continue to move forward with Competitive and Sideline Cheerleading, we closely monitor the safety standards set forth by our Association as well as the NFHS and AACCA. It is our hope that with this concerted effort, the safety of our student-athletes will continue to be held at the highest degree.

Jamie Rohrer Director of Athletics Florida High School Athletic Association

All spirit programs in Illinois must comply with the NFHS Spirit Rules Book and spirit coaches are required to attend an annual Illinois High School Association (IHSA) Spirit Rules Meeting sponsored and conducted by the Association. Illinois has an active coaches association which also provides leadership in areas of safety, technique and coaching management. Competitive cheer coaches are required to comply with the IHSA coaching By-law which is the same for all IHSA athletic coaches.

Illinois has both sideline and competitive cheerleading which falls under both the activity and sport by-laws of the Association. Illinois has offered a state championship for cheerleading for the past four years.

It is important for our association to provide the leadership for safe participation of all of our spirit participants from competition to sideline experiences. It requires a collaborative effort of student athletes, parents, school coaches, school administrators, state offices and national association to work in tandem to continue to be advocated for the safety of all student athletes.

Susie Knoblauch Assistant Executive Director Illinois High School Association

Kansas' #1 goal in cheerleading is "Safety." It is mandatory for new head cheer coaches to attend a Spirit Safety Rules Meeting during their first year. Thereafter, all head coaches must attend required safety rules meetings at least every other year and complete a safety rules test. Rules meetings are offered annually at all KSHSAA summer cheer camps and fall spirit clinics. The NFHSSpirit Coaches Education Program, including AACCA certification, is encouraged and annual courses are offered as an option for all cheer coaches. KSHSAA requires member schools to strictly follow all NFHS Spirit Rules with one exception  basket tosses have been prohibited for many years to minimize the possibility of a serious accident and/or injury.

In addition to the above, head cheer coaches of competitive cheer squads are required to hold a current teaching certificate or complete the American Sports Education First Aid course and Coaches Principles course. Cheerleaders are covered under the mandatory KSHSAA catastrophic insurance plan like all sport athletes.

Reggie Romine Assistant Executive Director Kansas State High School Activities Association

In the state of NH, Spirit is considered a sport and is held to the same standard as all of our recognized sports. Our Spirit programs follow NFHS rules, and our coaches are held to the same eligibility standard as all others. In addition they are required to attend an annual safety clinic as safety of our student athletes is always at the forefront.

Tia Lori Bergeron Associate Director New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Assn.

Mississippi believes that the safety of cheerleaders is first and foremost the most important area that we must focus on. All cheer coaches in Mississippi MUST be AACCA certified as well as being CPR certified. All cheer coaches must attend a mandatory rules clinic each year. This meeting is held to inform all coaches of the latest rules that have been approved by the National Federation of High School (NFHS). All the MHSAA members schools follow the rules of the NFHS.

The MHSAA takes tremendous strides in promoting the safety of all cheerleaders in Mississippi.

Mary Frances Waters Assistant Director Mississippi High School Activities Association

The safety of Missouri cheerleaders if our highest priority and something we stress each year. All cheer coaches must satisfy the coaching and first aid requirements established by the member schools prior to approval to serve as a cheer coach. Missouri follows all National Federation of High School (NFHS) Spirit Rules and requires the head cheer coach to attend a required MSHSAA rules meeting each year. The purpose of the meeting is to explain any rule changes put in place by the NFHS as well as MSHSAA.

Davine Davis Assistant Executive Director Missouri State High School Activities Association

Since 1987 Cheer has been a recognized sport in the state of West Virginia. All member schools must follow all NFHS Spirit rules as well as all West Virginia rules and regulations. All head coaches are required to attend a yearly cheer rules clinic. All competitions must be sanctioned by the WVSSAC (state office) ensuring that all safety rules and regulations are followed and that registered officials are used to oversee the safety of the competition and participants. All officials are required to complete training and must pass the NFHS/WV spirit test every year.

Numerous educational opportunities are offered to coaches and officials to enhance their knowledge of the sport through out the year. Various courses are offered including AACCASafety Certification. Coaches who do not have a valid WV teaching certificate must complete a 14 hour course including ASEPCoaching Principals, First Aid and WV Rules and Regulations-passing 3 written tests.

Since 1987 WVSSAC has had a state tournament for the sport of cheer as it has in all of the other sports. West Virginia has always strongly advocated that cheerleaders are to be treated as athletes. Safety has always been a concerted effort of this office, administrators, coaches and officials to protect the student athlete in all of the sports which includes cheer, sponsored by this office.

Kelly Geddis, CAA Assistant Executive Director West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission

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Kristin Hoskinson
Spring Hill College, Head Cheer and Dance Coach More from Members