Thursday, January 19, 2017

Throwback Thursday: "That Cheerleader Accident" At Syracuse University 35 Years Ago

Me top of the pic center as a college cheerleader at Syracuse University in 1982
right after cheerleading accident on national TV

My college cheerleading buddy, Ken Fischer, pointed out that an early national news story in my life happened 35 years ago today. The story was run today as a #ThrowbackThursday item on

Syracuse versus Georgetown basketball games in the 1980s were always must-see events.

The game between the Orange and the Hoyas on Jan. 17, 1982 was another highly anticipated matchup between the teams. Georgetown was ranked seventh in the nation and had won 13 games in a row.

The game was shown nationally on NBC with Syracuse alum Bob Costas on the call.

When it was over, though, few were talking about Syracuse's 75-70 upset win, or the second largest crowd ever to see a college game.

Instead, a cheerleader's fall and her agonizing scream was what was remembered.

The Syracuse cheerleaders had gone out onto the court after the game's first timeout and formed a human pyramid, three bodies high. When 5-foot-1-inch Michelle Munn, from Sayre, Pennsylvania, flipped from the top, no one was there to break her fall.

She landed on her head, and the large crowd hushed.

Post-Standard reporter Mark Wallinger wrote that all "that could be heard was the hum of the electrical fan keeping the Teflon dome inflated and Michelle's wails and screams."

The cheerleaders had practiced the stunt - called a Swedish Roll - for about three weeks, but it was the first time they had attempted it in public.

Later, cheerleaders speculated that Munn may have miscalculated her jump because of the noise of the loud crowd, starting her count too early before her spotter was in position.

Paramedics at the game rushed the engineering major and cheerleading co-captain, to Crouse-Irving Memorial Hospital, where she was diagnosed with a fractured skull.

Her parents rushed to join her, as did her fiance, who was watching the game on TV from her apartment.

She was listed in satisfactory condition.

Forty minutes after the accident, the Dome crowd was informed that Munn was in "very stable condition," which brought a loud cheer.

Munn returned to campus a couple of weeks later.

She said she did not know what went wrong with the stunt, and said she could not recall much about the accident.

"I vaguely remember crashing into something, but nothing's very clear," she told the newspaper.

Despite headaches and backaches she was able to return to class but had no idea when she could rejoin the cheerleading squad.

She would hesitate "only a moment" before attempting the pyramid stunt again, and disagreed with some calling for it to be banned.

She said,"Every sport is going to have some risk to it."

My cheerleading partner, Lisa, in mid-air during the accident

I remember exactly what happened: we had been doing the pyramid called a "Swedish Roll" for some time. Two sets of shoulder stand with a girl held like a beam parallel to the floor. The two girls were my partner, Lisa, and Michelle. They would hit the position, with one leg lifted, then Michelle would call "roll" and the girls would drop into the arms of guys waiting below.

A new element we had just incorporated was two guys flipping under the towers via mini trampolines before the "roll." Nothing dangerous, basically a dive roll and then the girls would dismount as usual. But it was the first timeout with a huge crowd playing Georgetown, big rival, adrenaline rushing as we hit the court.

We did the pyramid like we had done, but before the guys could flip, Michelle (who was one of the squad captains) looked at Lisa and yelled "one, two, roll!' As Lisa tried to stop her from going, Michelle went, and hit Reed (who was in mid-air flipping) on her way down. Because she went early and the mini tramp was still there, no one was in place to catch her.

The whole thing led to a big national debate about cheering safety.

It's amazing to me that all the details from that moment are so clear in memory today, 35 years later.

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