Nebraska cheerleaders not flipping over new rule keeping them grounded

Posted: Tuesday, August 20, 2002

LINCOLN, Neb. -- Kellie Bowman doesn't feel much like cheering, even with the college football season days away.

High-flying acrobatics and tumbles across the end zone are now banned for Nebraska's cheerleaders. A new policy at the school prohibits off-the-ground stunts to reduce injuries.

Gone are back flips, tumbling, tossing and pyramids.

''It's just a big disappointment, especially as football season approaches,'' said Bowman, the senior co-captain of Nebraska's Spirit Squad. ''Cheerleading has been more that just standing there waving pompoms. We were seen more as athletes.''

Last year, Nebraska agreed to a $2.1 million settlement with a former cheerleader paralyzed in a 1996 accident.

Now the Cornhuskers' female cheerleaders will be limited to dancing and holding signs. Men will carry the big red ''N'' flag and shout cheers through megaphones.

Duke is the only other Division I school to impose similar restrictions on its all-female squad, according to Jim Lord, executive director of the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Advisors.

''It was definitely a concern. Nebraska is obviously a large school and fairly influential, especially in the area of athletics,'' Lord said.

The Big East Conference made a point of teaching cheerleaders about safety.

Lord's organization sets safety guidelines for high school and college squads.

Of the 25 college and high school cheerleaders who have been injured seriously since 1990, 17 recovered or were expected to make a full recovery, according to Lord's group. In the same time period, the organization said, there were 283 similar injuries to college and high school football players.

Big East Commissioner Michael Tranghese sent a memo to conference athletic directors reminding them to adhere to safety guidelines set up by the cheerleading coaches' group.

''I realize that items of this nature don't seem very important now,'' Tranghese wrote.

''However, attention to this type of situation today could prevent a future tragedy as well as unnecessary litigation.''

Nebraska cheerleader Tracy Jensen was paralyzed in 1996 after she broke her neck while practicing a handspring. Jensen and the university reached a settlement that did not determine who was legally liable.

Bowman said her squad takes precautions and practices regularly under strict safety guidelines.

''It was just a little frustrating that the people who were making the decisions had never been to one of our practices to see how we minimize the risks,'' she said.

Cheerleading coach Kris Baack said the initial disappointment over the new no-stunt policy has faded, although two male squad members transferred to other schools.

''A couple of people were really, really traumatized but by the time the tryouts came they were all raring to go,'' Baack said. ''It turned out a whole lot better than I thought it would.''

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