After traumatic injury, former cheerleader applauds AMA's 'sport' designation

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by JENNY DOREN

WFAA

Posted on June 10, 2014 at 5:46 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jun 10 at 5:53 PM

Poll:
Do you think cheerleading should be a collegiate sport?

DALLAS -- It takes just a few seconds to see that cheerleading has its risks.

Now the American Medical Association is saying all that flipping, twisting, and launching into the air should be considered a sport.

The new policy was adopted Monday. It suggests more safety measures for cheerleaders, plus proper training for their coaches. They are changes that could have made a difference for one North Texas cheerleader.

For Kennedy Espindola, cheerleading was practically a career.

“Practicing every day,” she said of her high school years. “Before school [and] after school, up to 12 o'clock at night.”

That’s until one stunt went horribly wrong and ended her cheerleading career in an instant.

“I was in the hospital for a week, just basically kind of in a head coma,” she said. “My memory was gone [and] I didn't know where I was.”

Espindola had to learn to walk and read again after a fall from the top of a human pyramid 16-feet high. It happened two years ago when she was cheering competitively with Saginaw High School’s squad in Fort Worth.

“I'm just trying to get through it day by day,” she said.

The now 18-year-old at Texas State University is still struggling to bounce back up from that terrible tumble.

“I had to withdraw from my second semester of college because of my learning disabilities of the symptoms that I'm still having trouble with 'til this day from my concussion,” she said.

Even though she suffered that concussion a couple years ago, she’s still in therapy for its effects.

The former cheerleader is sharing her story in hopes it’ll step up safety in squads across America.

“Just like any other sport, anything can happen,” she said. “Concussion. A broken leg. We deserve the same benefits as any other sport.”

Espindola is now cheering on the American Medical Association’s efforts to make cheerleading a sport, but not everyone is in her corner.

The President of USA Cheer, the national governing body for cheerleading, is raising a red flag.

Bill Seely sent News 8 this statement:

“We share the AMA's goals of decreasing injuries, but we believe the best approach is not relabeling cheerleading, but ensuring all athletes and coaches are trained and certified and that all programs adhere to safety rules.

"Through our National Safety Council, we safety train over 20,000 coaches and 300,000 high school cheerleaders each year. We have developed safety rules that restrict what skills can be performed at each level and we regularly partner with the NCAA and the National Federation of State High School Association and their member state associations.

"Our work is why cheerleading has one of the lowest injury rates of any sport, currently 17th out of 20. In fact, our 360 degree approach to safety education and training is used as a model for other sports.”

E-mail jdoren@wfaa.com

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