Got a kid on the cheer squad? Maybe one who’s trying out for next year? Know this: A new study we read on MSNBC reports that cheerleading is the most dangerous sport for girls. Back in my day, cheerleading was about mega phones and pom poms. These days, the sport has morphed into extreme stunts and gymnastics moves. It’s those very stunts, like dive rolls, helicopter tosses and double twisting dismounts, that cause cheerleaders to suffer 65% of all catastrophic injuries in girls’ high school sports.

To give you an idea of how devastating these injuries are, a “catastrophic” accident is defined as a brain or spinal cord injury, or skull and spinal fracture. Each year, roughly 30,000 cheerleaders are admitted to the emergency room. Their average age? 14, which is a freshman in high school. The biggest problem facing cheerleading is that it's not recognized as an official sport, never mind the most dangerous sport. Most schools classify cheerleading as an “activity,” like the chess club or yearbook committee. As a result, cheerleading teams aren’t bound to the same safety regulations as other sports teams. Some states do require cheer coaches to be certified, but that only requires that coaches pass an online test. They aren’t required to have training in gymnastics or spotting techniques. Meanwhile, girls are getting tossed 25 feet in the air, hoping someone catches them. Take the story of one 17-year-old mentioned in the article named Patty. She was struck in the chest by a teammate’s fist as she fell from a stunt at a football game. She’s now 19 and living in a nursing home, unable to move or eat or speak.

So what can you do to protect your kids? Have them cheer with a private “club” team. These teams adhere to a high standard of safety. Private coaches are required to pass written and hands on tests. However, the cost to join most club teams is about $2,000 a year. Also, call your school’s athletic director to see if the school has a certified cheerleading coach, if the team practices in safety regulated facilities and if the team adheres to the rules set forth by the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches. If you want to go further, check out their website at AACCA.org.