Nicholas Kellyman, Gleaner Intern
Cheerleading in Jamaica has evolved from leading the crowd in cheers on school sports days, to a competitive sport featuring complex acrobatic stunts. One cheerleader equates cheerleading to track and field.
"Cheerleading hard like tracks more while," said Kadeem Nicholson, a member of Camperdown Senior Co. Ed. Twisters, winners of the Tertiary and All-Stars section at the recently held JamFit National Cheerleading Championships.
Cheerleading today has ventured beyond the stereotypical image of dainty, fun-loving dance routines and pom-poms. Cheerleaders are now forced to regularly perform challenging routines, displaying gymnastic prowess, with sequences that involve tumbling, leaping, jumping, tossing and human-pyramid building.
"The older they are, moving from primary to high-school level, the higher the risk [of injury] because they have to do more difficult stunts," said Karlle Ashley-Jones, director of Jamfit.
Cheerleading accidents occur frequently, sometimes cheerleaders fall from great heights, resulting in a range of limb, head, and neck injuries, as well as fainting and concussions.
"Once in training, we were doing a routine, and dis girl was on di top of di pyramid and we throw har up but, instead a she flick an we ketch har, she fly in di air and drop pan d concrete and mash up har neck. She had to wear a neck brace fi a good, good while," Nicholson remembered.
Cheerleading, in fact, results in an alarming 65.2 per cent of all catastrophic injuries in youth sports, according to a study published in June 2009 by the National Centre for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research at the University of North Carolina.
As alarming as it sounds, the figure may be even higher for Jamaica as "No team or school in Jamaica have their own [safety] mats, except for JamFit," revealed Ray Fyffe, coach of Camperdown Senior Co. Ed. Twisters.
Cheerleaders in Jamaica, thus have to train on concrete surfaces, on stony areas, or on grass.
Cheerleading has been officially accepted at the next Olympics, and many Jamaican cheerleaders are looking forward to flying the nations colours in the event.
"We kinda look like how the Jamaica bobsled team did, but we have that raw talent, it is just to nurture it, and to get it to a level that we can actually be a force to reckon with in the Olympics," said Jones.
However, due to its extremely competitive nature, many are concerned about the high risk of injury and lack of safety equipment.
"We are really trying to get funding through the Sport Development Foundation and sponsors. Hopefully, more persons will come on board and help us to get safety mats for the teams," said Jones.