Kristi K. Yamaoka (born 1987) was an American cheerleader and psychology major at Southern Illinois University from Springfield, Illinois. On March 5 2006, she fell off a human pyramid during a cheerleading performance in a game between Southern Illinois and Bradley University at the Savvis Center in St. Louis. Her performance from the stretcher as she was carried off the court was nationwide news, making her "the most famous cheerleader in America". She suffered a fractured thoracic vertebra, concussion, and bruised lung, and has since made a full recovery.
Ms. Yamaoka was a cheerleader for both basketball and varsity football and was on the NCAA Traveling Spirit Squad and involved in the SIUC Spirit Squad. She's been the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity sweetheart and sports chair for Alpha Gamma Delta. Her awards included being on the Dean's List, honors achievement recognition, Saluki spotlight representative and was in the court of the Homecoming Queen. She participated in the American Sign Language club, Adopt-a-Spot, the SIU football fish fry, Fazoli's children's night and as a Saluki dance competition judge.
During a timeout with 3:25 left in the game, the SIU cheerleading squad was performing a human pyramid. Prior to the fall, Yamaoka was on the third tier of the pyramid, and was expected to do splits, and then follow that with leaning forward and performing flip and front rollout. Prior to the flip, she leaned backward, lost her balance, and fell backward approximately 15 feet off the pyramid, landing on her head hushing the crowd of about 14,000.
After the fall
Immediately following the fall, Yamaoka was motionless on the floor. Despite the fall, she asked not to be taken from the game. She was placed in a back and neck brace and taken to Saint Louis University Hospital. As she was leaving the court on a stretcher, the SIU pep band began playing the school's fight song, "Go Southern Go". She stunned the crowd by performing her cheerleading routine from a stretcher as she was wheeled off the court. Footage of her performing from the stretcher was shown in broadcast media including ESPN and CNN, and news of her performance was carried in hundreds of print media outlets. She was released from the hospital on March 7 2006.
Following the game, Yamaoka went to New York City and appeared on The Today Show, Good Morning America and the Ellen Degeneres Show. She was quoted as saying "My biggest concern was that I didn't want my squad to be distracted, so that they could continue cheering on the team, and I didn't want my team to be distracted from winning the game". She also received a call from President Bush. Initially, the hospital did not believe the call was real. Diane Sawyer, a former cheerleader herself, also called her.
Yamaoka missed the remainder of the 2006 season as she recuperated from her injuries, and then returned for the 2006-07 football and basketball seasons.
Consequences of the fall
As a result of the fall, the Missouri Valley Conference banned tossing or launching of cheerleaders, and no pyramid may be higher than two levels during that conference's women's basketball tournament. Additionally, the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators recommended banning basket tosses and high pyramids without mats. Though the group has no authority to prevent such routines, the NCAA requires cheerleading squads to conform to the group's requirements. There has been negative reaction to the ban, with cheerleading coaches noting that these routines are performed thousands of times per year without incident. However, the AACCA rules committee made the bans permanent on July 11 2006:
The committee unanimously voted for sweeping revisions to cheerleading safety rules, the most major of which restricts specific upper-level skills during basketball games. Basket tosses, 2½ high pyramids, one-arm stunts, stunts that involve twisting or flipping, and twisting tumbling skills may only be performed during halftime and post-game on a matted surface and are prohibited during game play or time-outs.
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- ↑ "Cheerleader worried for team, not herself". http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/11699607/. Retrieved 2007-09-29.
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- ↑ "After the Fall". http://www.ocf.on.ca/pdf/051_CollegeFeat_AC0906.pdf. Retrieved 2006-12-19.
- ↑ "Changes in Cheers". http://www.wsiltv.com/p/news_details.php?newsID=1306&type=top. Retrieved 2006-12-19.
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- ↑ "CHEERLEADING PROGRAMS GOING ALL-OUT FOR SAFETY". http://www.aacca.org/CollegePressRelease.doc. Retrieved 2006-12-19.