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(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly members Patrick J. Diegnan, Jr., Mila M. Jasey and Craig J. Coughlin requiring the state Department of Education to include cheerleading in the student-athlete head injury safety training program was advanced Thursday by a Senate committee.

The bill (A-4008) would extend the safety training requirement to cheerleading coaches in public school and nonpublic school interscholastic sports programs, and amend the current law which requires the training solely for school physicians, sports coaches and athletic trainers in public school and nonpublic school interscholastic sports programs.

“This bill would ensure the safety of students involved in cheerleading, which has become more competitive and pushes the limits of gymnastics and dance,” said Diegnan (D-Middlesex). “These students run the risk of serious injury when they perform, and deserve the same level of protection given to other students involved in school athletics.”

“The cheerleaders of today do more than wave pompons; they are performing athletically difficult routines including high pyramids, leaps and tosses,” said Jasey (D-Essex). “This offers them the same level of protection as other student athletes, and ensures their coaches will have the training to properly recognize and deal with head injuries.”

“Cheerleading is competitive and can be as dangerous for students as high-contact sports like football,” said Coughlin (D-Middlesex). “Making sure trainers and coaches have the knowledge to recognize symptoms, and when it’s safe for a student to return to the sport will help keep student athletes safe from further injury or even worse.”

The bill was approved 78-0 by the Assembly in June and released Thursday by the Senate Education Committee.

The training covers how to recognize symptoms of head and neck injuries, concussions, and injuries related to second-impact syndrome; and the appropriate amount of time to delay the return to competition of a student who suffers a head injury.

A report from the National Center for Catastrophic Injuries said statistically speaking; cheerleading is the most dangerous sport – even more so than football. The report cited 44 fatalities or serious injuries during the course of the study and those injuries continue to rise.

A study published in the journal Pediatrics in 2006 reported cheerleading injuries increased by 110 percent between 1990 and 2002. The most common injuries were arm and leg strains and sprains, but 3.5 percent of the cases involved head injuries. Research by the Consumer Product Safety Commission in 2007 found the number of emergency room visits to treat cheerleading injuries of any kind jumped from 4,954 in 1980 to 28,414 in 2004.