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.