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Safety In Spotlight At Local Cheerleading Competition

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The state's first high-school cheerleading championship took place in Raleigh Saturday.

Along with the yells and high jumps came the threat of injury like a Wilson girl suffered last week.

Fourteen-year-old Katherine Yount, a member of the junior varsity cheerleading squad at Hunt High School, fell while practicing a stunt before a game at Wilson Fike last week. She remained in a drug-induced coma Saturday.

Yount's accident led school administrators to improve conditions where the team practices.

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Saturday, the pressure was on, but the cheerleaaders did not let their faces show it.

Spirit, originality and teamwork are important in cheerleader competition. But if team members cannot nail their stunts, they cannot beat the best.

"I just want them to go out there and have fun," Broughton cheerleading coach Natalie Swann said, "and do something they can be proud of."

Swann said safety comes first.

"When we learn things, we learn them in progression," she said. "Everyone wants to do the hardest stunt out there. But if you don't start with the basic things, that's when . . . you're endangering the girls."

Thick tumble mats were standard equipment at Saturday's competition. When Yount fell through her teammates' arms and hit her head on the ground last week, there were no such mats in place.

Franklinton High School's cheerleaders said Saturday that they prefer to work over padding. But they hope they never need it.

"If she hits the floor, it is all my fault, and that's a little scary," Franklinton's Alexandra Peoples said of a teammate. "But I do catch her all the time."

Because cheerleading is not a recognized sport, there is little the High School Athletic Association can require of schools' cheerleading teams, outside of rules for eligibility. Coaches do not even have to be certified.

"Many of the coaches actually go through a certification process," said NCHSAA Executive Director Carolyn Shannonhouse. "That is not a mandate from us at this time."

Shannonhouse said the NCHSAA recommends safety guidelines that most coaches take to heart. A state cheerleading association also offers annual clinics that help coaches and their teams learn how to perform stunts safely.

"When we first start training, we tell them it's better to drop the stunt than to push through and get hurt," Franklinton coach Leslie Bender said.

The top spot Saturday went to Southeast Raleigh's JV team. The best news was that no mistakes were serious mistakes, and every girl will go on to cheer another day.


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