UF grounds cheerleaders
Published: Monday, November 19, 2012 at 3:04 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, November 20, 2012 at 6:51 p.m.
Cory Stark spent his game days at the University of Florida stirring up school spirit from the sidelines.
A 2010 alumnus and former Gator cheerleader, he said he was stunned to hear that cheerleaders last week were told they no longer could perform acrobatic stunts and tumble during games. The cheerleaders' grounding came one day before the last home football game for seniors and three days after an accident involving an Orlando Magic cheerleader at a pro basketball game.
"I don't think it's a fair move," he said. "I think it is an extreme reaction."
After being blasted on Twitter all weekend for the grounding, the UF athletic association on Monday explained its decision.
The decision Friday to ground the squad "was not one that was made lightly," athletic association spokesman Steve McClain said in a statement emailed to The Sun.
"Instead of waiting for a tragedy to occur, we are taking a proactive stance to protect the cheerleaders, who represent the University of Florida with enthusiasm and class, and allow them to lead cheers at Gator games for years to come," he said.
Cheerleaders linked the decision to the accident last week at an Orlando Magic game. After losing her footing on a teammate's shoulders and falling on her head, a Magic cheerleader fractured three vertebrae and broke a rib.
UF cheerleaders turned to Twitter to protest the decision to ground their team, using the hashtag #UngroundUFCheer.
"It's a sad day in UF cheer history that we will no longer have the privilege to perform stunts and tumbling for Gator fans #ungroundUFcheer," cheerleader Haley Violetta tweeted.
"UF cheerleaders are no longer allowed to stunt and tumble … first we aren't a real sport now we are too dangerous? #what #UngroundUFCheer," cheerleader Liz Garcia tweeted.
Senior cheerleader Tarin Moses tweeted Saturday, "Woke up this morning thinking that everything that happened yesterday didn't. Can't believe I can't tumble out the team for my last home game."
UF isn't the first university to ban its cheerleader squad from doing acrobatic stunts. In 2006, Oregon State announced it was eliminating such stunts in the wake of a high-profile injury in which a Southern Illinois cheerleader fell and sustained a broken neck.
While UF hasn't had that level of accident in recent years, a Gator cheerleader tore her Achilles tendon last year during a routine, according to Onlygators.com.
McClain said in his statement that Gator cheerleading is not a varsity competitive sport but instead is a support group intended to generate spirit at university events.
"We understand that the modern day culture of cheerleading encourages acrobatic stunts which require tremendous athletic skill," he said. "The reality, however, is that the danger associated with these types of stunts is simply not worth the risk to the cheerleaders or to the University of Florida."
In addition to the cheer squad that appears at sporting events, UF also has a competitive cheerleading club that participates in national competitions. Ashley Engelbert, president of the club, said she views injuries as part of any sport.
"If someone blows out their knee in football, they're not going to ban tackling," she said.
As a staff member with the Universal Cheerleading Association, Engelbert teaches cheerleading camps for high school students. She said dangerous moves have been banned if found to be linked to injuries, such as the "double down" dismount in which a tossed cheerleader twists twice before being caught.
"In all honesty, each year everything gets safer and safer," she said.
Peggy Meaders-Johnson, coach of Gainesville High School's cheerleading squad, said her squad follows the rules for appropriate moves, noting that where cheerleaders are performing factors into what they do.
"We don't do as much stunting on the basketball court for safety reasons," she said.
TiAnn Stark, Cory's mother and head cheerleading coach at Newberry High School, said she was extremely disappointed with UF's decision.
Newberry's squad is the only one to compete in Alachua County, she said, and coaches are certified by the American Cheerleaders Association to train cheerleaders how to stunt safely.
"There is no plan to ground our cheerleaders," she said, adding that she believes cheerleading should be treated like any other sport where, even after training and practice, there is inherent risk of injury.
"You don't see them grounding the gymnastics team," she said. "(Cheerleaders) don't tumble on a 4-inch-wide beam."
Contact Nathan Crabbe at 338-3176 or firstname.lastname@example.org and Joey Flechas at 338-3166 or email@example.com. Visit www.thecampussun.com for more stories on the University of Florida.
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