Cheerleading Fall Doesn't Stop the Cheer

Cheerleading Fall Doesn't Stop the Cheer
By: Holly Brantley
 
CARBONDALE, IL -- Even if you're not a basketball fan, you probably were touched by Saluki Spirit this weekend.
 
A hush fell over the crowd in St. Louis when 18-year-old Kristi Yamaoka, a Southern Illinois University Cheerleader, fell backward from the top of a pyramid. Panic turned to tears of joy for much of the crowd when Yamaoka began to cheer as she was carried off the court on a stretcher. It's a story that grabbed national headlines, but no one is touched more deeply than those who share Yamaoka's Saluki Pride.
 
On the SIU campus, everybody's talking about Kristi Yamaoka, the cheerleader who showed the country that her school pride is more powerful than pain.
 
"I think she cared more about cheering than she did about her injury," said fellow cheerleader, Kristopher Smith.

Smith says timed seemed to stop as Kristi fell during a stunt. "It was slow motion," said Kristopher. "I just saw her going down and there was nothing I could do about it because there was someone else on top of me."

Scary moments followed, but it would take more than a bad fall to take the cheer out of Kristi.

"It gives you a sense of school pride," said Kristopher. "This girl falls off a pyramid and she's doing the motions to the fight song. It made me proud to be her teammate."

Members of the Saluki Shakers Dance Team were on the court when the accident happened. "It gives you a strong sense of what Saluki Pride is," said Jessica Mitchell. "It's not only the team winning the MVC tournament. It's the cheerleaders, the shakers, the band, the crowd, the fans, and everybody."

Jennifer Graeff coaches Kristi and the Saluki Cheerleading Squad. "I think she just wanted to let everybody know she was okay," said Graeff. "So, she put her hands up and the band started playing. I think it was just her instinct, she heard the fight song and boy she was going to do it. Even yesterday in the hospital, she just kept wanting to see the last four minutes," Graeff explained. "I told her she didn't need to see the fall and she said she wanted to see the last four minutes of the game so she would know the score."

Graeff calls Kristi Yamaoka the epitome of "Cheerleader".
 
Doctors expect Kristi to make a full recovery. She did suffer a concussion and a chipped vertebrate. For now, her season is over. She won't be going along with the Saluki Basketball Team to the NCAA tournament. But, her coach says she expects Kristi to be back on the team next season.

Members of the SIU Cheerleading squad say safety is a huge part of the squads practice sessions. Coach, Jennifer Graeff says the team followed all of the safety guidelines and rules. Graeff says the mount was one the squad had performed all season.