NEW KENT (WRIC) - Head injuries are becoming increasingly common as cheerleading routines focus more on gymnastics, pyramids and aerial stunts. Now one cheerleading program is taking new steps to protect its young athletes.
Practice is underway at New Kent Gymnastics Center, but before they flip and fly, the girls gear up.
Carissa Baldwin says helmets are a recent addition to her all-star squad -- the Virginia Gems. Her gym's always had safety measures like spring floors and coach certifications, but this padding takes it up a notch.
"It's a multi-sport helmet so it's used for flag football, rugby, lacrosse," she says. "It wouldn't be something they compete in or wear maybe later in the season, but in that first learning phase where it's brand new that's where we've found the most success."
In a sport where kicks and falls can mean blows to the head, the extra cushioning has already helped 14-year-old Sierra Heath.
"A girl did fall on my head but I didn't feel anything or get dizzy or get a headache at all," she says.
And Heath -- who's had a concussion before -- hasn't had issues concentrating in school or other symptoms that have kept her sidelined.
One recent study found concussions make up six percent of all cheerleading injuries, so this program welcomes the day when helmets are part of the routine.
"If other sports are wearing helmets, cheerleading is certainly a sport so why not have that crossover to us too," Baldwin says.
Concussions are an issue and they're not the only danger. Emergency room visits related to cheerleading jumped by more than 500 percent between 1980 and 2002.
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