DALLAS - Ten minutes before the big game, the beribboned Baylor cheerleading squad tumbled, twisted and flipped in a cramped backstage practice area of the cavernous American Airlines Center.
The team scrambled to tone down its routines for the Big 12 Tournament this weekend after a national cheerleading safety group restricted high-flying stunts in response to a frightening fall from a 15-foot human pyramid a week earlier. The changes went into effect days before a slew of college basketball conference tournaments around the country.
"Basically, we have been practicing this whole semester for nothing. One incident has caused us to have to rework everything," said Heather Cunningham, Baylor's cheerleading captain. "We are going back to middle school stuff."
The American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators banned tall pyramids and some forms of cheerleader tossing without mats after Kristi Yamaoka of Southern Illinois lost her balance and fell on her head during the Missouri Valley Conference championship on March 5. She had a concussion and cracked vertebra in her neck but was released from a hospital Tuesday.
Jim Lord, AACCA executive director, said the new rules are an attempt to prevent another high-profile accident. Lord said the restrictions only apply to basketball games, where high-flying tricks can be dangerous because of hardwood floors and crowded sidelines.
While the AACCA has no enforcement power, the NCAA, NAIA and other basketball tournaments require cheerleading teams to conform to its guidelines. And squads are likely to comply, since conferences could punish them for breaking the rules.
However, Southeastern Conference associate commissioner Charles Bloom said the SEC would not implement any new rules.
Cheering has grown over the years to include male performers, highly competitive national and world championships and intensive training regimens.
"Standards for safety are already in place," said Kentucky cheerleading coach Jomo Thompson. "It is up to the school and the coaches that they are followed. In the Southeastern Conference, we take the utmost pride in not getting anybody hurt."