- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 14, 2006

DALLAS

Ten minutes before the big game, the beribboned Baylor University cheerleading squad tumbled, twisted and flipped in a cramped backstage practice area of the cavernous American Airlines Center.

The team scrambled to tone down its routines after a national cheerleading safety group restricted high-flying stunts in response to a frightening fall from a 15-foot human pyramid a week earlier. The changes went into effect days before a slew of college basketball conference tournaments across the country began.

“Basically, we have been practicing this whole semester for nothing. One incident has caused us to have to rework everything,” said Heather Cunningham, Baylor’s cheerleading captain. “We are going back to middle-school stuff.”

The American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators (AACCA) banned tall pyramids and some forms of cheerleader tossing without mats after Kristi Yamaoka of Southern Illinois University lost her balance and fell on her head during the Missouri Valley Conference championship March 5. She had a concussion and cracked vertebra in her neck but was released from a hospital March 7.

Jim Lord, AACCA executive director, said the new rules are an attempt to prevent another high-profile accident. Mr. Lord said the restrictions apply only to basketball games, at which high-flying tricks can be dangerous because of hardwood floors and crowded sidelines.

“This isn’t a cheerleading competition. This isn’t where they get to do everything they want to do,” said Mr. Lord, whose group works to educate the more than 50,000 cheerleading coaches nationwide. “The cheerleaders aren’t there for themselves. They’re there for the game.”

Although the AACCA has no enforcement power, the NCAA, NAIA and other basketball tournaments require cheerleading teams to conform to its guidelines. Squads are likely to comply because conferences could punish them for breaking the rules.

“I think the rules are excellent,” said Tim Allen, associate commissioner for the Big 12 Conference. “There are probably plenty of things they can do to increase fan involvement and keep spirit up that don’t involve placing anyone at risk.”

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