American high school and college cheerleaders are losing teeth, breaking backs and becoming paralyzed in increasingly dangerous stunts that agonized parents and experts say should be stopped. "I didn't know that they were throwing her up in the air. Why would the school allow that?" asked one stunned Los Angeles father, whose daughter has been unable to move or speak since a high school cheerleading accident two years ago. Cheerleading injuries ending in trips to emergency rooms have increased almost sixfold since 1980, to nearly 30,000 last year.
Disabilities or deaths in the last 26 years are almost double for female high school cheerleaders than for female players of all sports combined. Some stunts result in the same impact as being tackled by an NFL linebacker, according to studies. "Cheerleading is out of control," said a sports injury expert from the University of North Carolina. Experts are calling for mats, spring-loaded surfaces and well trained supervisors. Still, if a "girl hits her head from ten feet high, she's going to suffer catastrophic injury," warns one expert.