Safety and Training Rules Are Inconsistent at Local Schools

Safety and Training Rules Are Inconsistent at Local Schools

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

As is true at schools elsewhere, the rules governing cheerleading in the Washington area vary.

The University of Maryland is one of only a few colleges in the country that considers cheerleading a sport, giving it the resources and subjecting it to the safety requirements of football, basketball or any other athletic activity. But no other college in the state has taken that step, and the rules for high schools are set by each school system.

In Montgomery County, all cheerleading coaches must take safety courses and undergo first aid training, and they are offered specific courses on how to teach cheerleading, according to Gaby von Nordheim, athletics specialist for the school system. Schools also follow safety rules established by the National Federation of State High School Associations.

"In some cases we have more stringent rules," von Nordheim said. For example, an extra spotter is required for riskier stunts, such as when a single cheerleader with arms extended holds a teammate aloft. "We stress safety with our coaches first and foremost."

In Prince George's County and the District, high schools must follow the federation's safety rules, and coaches are encouraged to get special training.

"Every year we offer coaches safety training. We want them to do it, but it's not mandatory," said Earl Hawkins, the county's director of athletics.

"As long as you follow those guidelines, I think you have a very safe sport," said Patricia Briscoe, assistant director of athletics for the District's public schools.

In Virginia, all high school cheerleading programs are required to follow the federation rules, but it's up to individual school systems to decide what kind of training coaches undergo.

"We have been tying to get schools to come on board with some kind of mandatory coaches' education," said Joyce Sisson, assistant director of the Virginia High School League.

In Fairfax County, all coaches are required to go through the same training other coaches undergo, plus special courses about cheerleading.

"Cheerleading can be dangerous," said Dan Curran, Fairfax's director of athletics and activities. "We make sure our coaches are thoroughly trained."

Loudoun County does not require coaches to complete cheerleading training courses.

"We are working toward developing an education course," said Les Cummings, the county's supervisor of athletics. "But safety is our first priority for all our athletes. We try to make sure our coaches are doing the right things."

-- Rob Stein

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