For nearly seven years, Kimberly Archie has fought for cheerleading to earn recognition as a sport as a way to make it more safe for its female athletes.
Cheerleading is the No. 1 female sport and No. 2 in catastrophic injuries when compared to all sports—only American football ranks higher. Archie founded the National Cheer Safety Foundation (NCSF) after watching her daughter fracture her arm at a cheer gym in Oregon in 2003.
Now, Archie’s fight appears headed into the final rounds. Changing the name of cheerleading to acrobatics and tumbling, a national governing body was formed to govern the sport at the collegiate level and implement safety standards. Known as the National Collegiate Acrobatics and Tumbling Association (NCATA), six founding universities invested $2 million and began competing for the first time last year. The founding universities of NCATA are: University of Maryland, University of Oregon, Fairmont State University, Quinnipiac University, Azuza Pacific University and Baylor University.
The University of Maryland was one of six universities that competed in collegiate acrobatics and tumbling in its first season last year.
The group faces opposition from many cheerleading companies and groups, who oppose limiting the high-flying, high-powered, complex, acrobatic shows. Still, the organization is pushing the federal Office of Civil Rights to recognize acrobatics and tumbling as a Title IX sport. The group is currently seeking emerging sport status and hopes to become a fully sanctioned NCAA championship sport in the future.
As practice begins for the second season this fall, acrobatics and tumbling universities are reporting a record 82 freshman on campus to compete. More than 200 student-athletes competed on NCATA university sponsored teams in its inaugural season last year.
Archie, who is a NCATA official, is enthusiastic about the sport and its improved safety measures. She has a new book coming out soon on acrobatics and tumbling safety. She recently spoke with The Sport Update in preparation for her presentation at the United States Sports Academy’s free seminar, “Concussions as Catastrophic Injury in Sport and Cheerleading,” beginning at 9 a.m. Friday, Nov. 11 on the Daphne, Ala., campus. Archie’s presentation begins at 1 p.m.
The Sport Update: How has having a governing body like NCATA helped in reducing injuries in acrobatics and tumbling, or cheerleading?
Kimberly Archie: We’ve had an entire season to train the athletes on safety and the skill set. Acrobatics and tumbling is really all about safety. Once it was being governed, everything has improved. It’s not uncommon to see a dozen serious injuries in a cheerleading competition. During three days at the NCATA nationals last year, we had one torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament). That was it. That’s because we have athletic trainers and strength and conditioning coaches. The athletes can only train so many hours a week, so we have a lot less overuse injuries. It’s against the rules to do any dangerous stunts on hard surfaces. Plus, we’ve increased training in proper technique. Acrobatics and tumbling has not only made the sport safer at the collegiate level, it has made it a lot safer for everyone all the way around.
The Sport Update: When you officiate the acrobatics and tumbling competitions why were you so tough?
Kimberly Archie: We have deductions associated with scoring. In cheer, they only judge on aesthetics. No one focuses on the proper techniques. In acrobatics and tumbling, there are many deductions for doing improper technique. Technique-wise everything is done for safety. There is so much less impact on the athletes, if they do a stunt properly. As an official, I was really strict on deductions for improper technique. But just like football coaches and players look at their tape, so did acrobatics and tumbling coaches and players to see why they got marked off for doing X, Y and Z, so they don’t do it again. Cheerleading accounts for two-thirds of all catastrophic injuries in female athletes. That’s why we have a duty to make sure we do it right. Proper training has been missing from this sport all these years.
The Sport Update: How to acrobatics and tumbling athletes compare to athletes in other sports?
Kimberly Archie: I’ve talked to a number of strength and conditioning coaches and they say the acrobatic and tumbling student-athletes are the best physically trained that they have ever seen. I think they expected them not to be like that. They really are incredible athletes who have to have the strength of a weightlifter, the balance of an ice skater and the flexibility of a gymnast. And they definitely have to defy gravity, while making it all look easy.
The Sport Update: What have been some of the hardest obstacles to overcome in the effort to become officially recognized as a sport?
Kimberly Archie: There definitely has been many roadblocks. We’ve had to get past the public’s perception of the word cheerleader, which most people associate only with the over sexualized Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders. On top of that, the cheer industry did not welcome any regulation. They teamed up with Title IX feminists to try to keep the skill sets the same on the sidelines indefinitely. Now in 2011, some of the same people who were opposed to cheerleading being a sport are now helping the crusade.
The Sport Update: What do you see as the future of acrobatics and tumbling?
Kimberly Archie: We have six founding institutions and many new universities coming on board in the future. The Office of Civil Rights has refused to recognize acrobatics and tumbling as a sport under Title IX to this point, which is ridiculous. Everything that is required of a Title IX sport the NCATA has done. It’s kind of like pushing a rock up a hill. But all these universities have gone out on a limb because of safety. In two to five years, I see acrobatics and tumbling becoming an NCAA championship sport and it will continue to be the fastest growing female sport in the country. It will take off.