"NOT JUST A FOOTBALL ISSUE:" More cheerleaders get concussions in practice than competition

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REPUBLIC, Mo. (KY3) - A study published Tuesday shows changes in the rates of concussions in high school sports.

The rates of concussions in football practices decreased, while the number during games increased. The data is from the National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance Study database. The study was published in the journal Pediatrics on Tuesday.

It included data on 9,542 concussions in 20 high school sports between the 2013-2014 and 2017-2018 school years.

According to the study, Football is still in the lead for rates of concussions among all contact sports, with 10.4 per 10,000 athlete exposures. Girls' soccer came in second with 8.19 per 10,000 athletes exposures. Boys' ice hockey, third, with 7.69 per 10,000 athlete exposures.

In practices, football still had the highest rate of concussions, while cheerleading came in second. The study showed most concussions happened during competition, while only one sport had a rate higher in practices: competitive cheerleading.

"It is a very contact sport, even though some people don't view it that way," said Lindsey Bocklage, cheer director at Gold Medal Gyms in Republic, Mo.

Bocklage said practice makes perfect.

"That's when mistakes happen. That's when they're learning something new. That's when they're learning something challenging. Maybe we're upgrading a stunt," she said.

So she's not surprised by the numbers.

"You're getting hit, you're getting kicked, you're getting elbowed. It happens," Bocklage said.

Jim Raynor, Administrative Director of Mercy Sports Medicine in Springfield, weighed in on the results.

"If you look at the activities in which they're doing, from the stunts to the base to the tossing and the basket catching, I'm not surprised that's taking place," he said.

Raynor said, concussions are "not just a football issue," they're an issue for all athletics.

"The younger you are, and the longer you participate in athletics, the greater risk or greater exposure risk that one might have," he said.

Bocklage trains cheerleaders ages three to eighteen. She said she's never had a concussion on one of her teams, and that might be because of how she's been taught to coach.

"You need to fall as tight as you can, arms by your side, don't flail. That way your group can safely catch you and bring you to a safe landing, that way you don't fall down to the ground and you don't hit a base and cause them to get a concussion," she said.

She's trying to make practice perfect, with safety in mind.

"We don't want to jeopardize their future in any way, shape or form," Bocklage said.

Raynor said there is no sure-fire way to prevent head injuries in sports. He said it is imperative coaches and trainers manage them carefully to prevent long-term damage for young athletes.

Click HERE for more information about the study.