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MVC bans certain cheerleading moves after injury

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Kristi Yamaoka performs the cheer to the SIU fight song while being carted off the court Sunday, after she fell 15 feet. (UPI photo/Bill Greenblatt)

By AP/KWMU

St. Louis, MO – The Missouri Valley Conference has banned certain cheerleading stunts during this week's women's basketball tournament. The move comes after a cheerleader from Southern Illinois University fell 15 feet during a routine on Sunday and landed on her head. The fall happended at the Savvis Center.

Now, cheerleaders may not be launched or tossed and may not take part in ormations higher than two levels during the tournament, MVC commissioner Doug Elgin said Tuesday.

Schools that advance to the NCAA or NIT tournaments may decide whether their cheerleaders should follow that ban, though the MVC will decide in May whether to make the restrictions permanent, Elgin added.

Kristi Yamaoka, 18, cracked neck vertebra and was left with a concussion when she fell during a timeout towards the end of the MVC championship game on Sunday.

She drew national attention as she was wheeled off the court when she gave a two-handed thumbs up while strapped to a gurney, then made cheerleading moves with her arms in time to the band's playing of the school fight song.

The sophomore from Springfield, Ill., remained in fair condition Tuesday at Saint Louis University Hospital.

"I think the entire country was holding its collective breath when she got hurt," said Elgin, among the 14,000 onlookers at the Savvis Center. "I've never experienced that type of total silence there.

"It scared the daylights out of all of us."

Elgin said Monday's move was meant to prevent similar accidents, also taking into account such issues as risk management and insurance. "We're very concerned when something like this happens," Elgin said. "We don't want to curtail unnecessarily anything viewed in cheerleading culture as routine. But we don't want the risk of serious or catastrophic injuries."

Yamaoka's accident came at a time of renewed awareness about cheerleading risks. A study published in January in the journal Pediatrics showed that cheerleading injuries more than doubled from 1990 through 2002, while participation grew just 18% over the same period.

Yamaoka, meanwhile, said Tuesday she wasn't sure the MVC shouldn't set new rules just because of her accident. She says the fall was no one's fault and she doesn't want her accident to change cheerleading. She also plans to try out for SIUs cheer squad later this spring.

Yamaoka appeared on NBCs "Today" show on Wednesday morning. To see that interview, click here.

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