Good Question: What H.S. Sports Are Most Dangerous?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — In light of the paralyzing injury to high school hockey player Jack Jablonski and the hospitalization of hockey player Jenna Privette, many people are looking at the safety record of high school sports. So, which sport is the most dangerous?

“Dangerous could be defined in a couple different ways,” said Dr. Jamie Peters, physician with Fairview Sports and Orthopedic Care in Eden Prairie.

Some research looks at days missed in the sport, and includes injuries like broken arms, which can be season-ending. But the largest body of research is on catastrophic injuries: Deaths, paralyzing injuries, or serious injuries with a recovery.

“Those are issues confined to sports that are high velocity or collision and when those two things come together? I’d probably put football or hockey way up on top,” said Peters.

The National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research puts gymnastics as the most dangerous sport, when you look at injuries per athlete.

From 1982-2009, nearly 2 out of 100,000 male gymnasts had paralyzing injuries — compared to 0.89 females, according to the research.

“I broke my elbow last year,” said Cameron Zuck, an Eden Prairie High School gymnast. “Gymnastics is pretty tough on the body,” she said.

“You think about the velocity and forces involved, people are doing a lot of pulling on delicate joints and delicate ligaments,” said Peters.

Hockey is in that same league, as we all now know from seeing the condition of Jack Jablonski and Jenna Privette.

According to the national research, 1.38 hockey players per 100,000 is paralyzed.

“In the high schools you have big kids with lots of mass hitting kids with less mass, that’s another factor for possible increased risk of serious injury,” he said.

When you look at sheer numbers, however, high school football is far more dangerous than any other sport.

Since 1982: 113 died playing football and 331 had permanent damage. That compares to 11 paralyzed in ice hockey, and 8 in gymnastics.

“If a player is hit from front and back, even best helmet in the world isn’t going to protect them from a significant injury,” said Peters.

To Cameron Zuck, and most athletes, the upside far outweighs the risk. She’s working hard to get back in shape.

“There’s lots of positive benefits of high school sports, and we need to do everything we can to reduce the risk,” said Peters.

The most dangerous sport for high school girls might surprise, because in some states it’s not even considered a sport: cheerleading.

Since 1982, 2 girls died and 28 were permanently disabled while taking part in competitive cheerleading.

More from Jason DeRusha
  • Mr.Obvoius

    Sex is the most dangerous high school sport.

  • Arnie Boich

    How many deaths per 100,000 licensed drivers in Minnesota were there last year. I think the number is much much higher than any sport. Then why do we continue to drive these killing machines? Because we want to continue living life, I guess.

  • Jeremy Beck

    I don’t disagree with the fact that gymnastics is dangerous. My argument is that gymnastics would be the most dangerous using paralysis as the baseline. You can’t compare injuries like that. It’s apples vs. oranges. I feel death would be worse than paralysis. And as the video explained, gymnastics was rather low in deaths as opposed to football. To me, it’s also about the safety. With gymnastics, we use precautions such as safety drills to escape larger skills. We work with progressions using mats and specialized training equipment. Metaphorically, we put the seat belt on before we go driving. Now there are other sports, such as football, where being tackled is inevitable. Yes, they have helmets, and padding, but it won’t necessarily prevent a dislocation when you’re being tackled onto hard ground. We see this annually watching NFL. In the 15 years I’ve been in gymnastics, any major injury I’ve seen came from the gymnast trying something well out of their skill level. In essence, “playing around on the highway.” The other type of injury comes from genetics. I had to have wrist surgery, but not because of gymnastics, but because of a ganglion cyst, which only hurt when I practiced on it. But the cyst did not form because of gymnastics. Instead, it was by genetics because I have a family history of ganglion cysts. Now, is it fair to say that if I broke my wrist, I should blame gymnastics? Hardly. It may aide the injury to occur, but it’s not the underlying cause. And I agree, with Arnie Boich (above). Parents look at these sports like they’re “too” dangerous. Yet, you haul your kids around in a 1-2 ton vehicle capable of going 100 mph. Sounds like you could get paralyzed their…Oh, but I’m sure it’s the exception to the rule (hint the sarcasm).

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