News

He turned purple twice

The teen was trying to do a back handspring when he fell and fractured his spinal cord.

Twelve days later, the Ngee Ann Polytechnic student died in hospital after complications from his injuries.

Mr Lai Qing Xiang, 18, was part of the polytechnic's Magnum Force cheerleading team when he fell on Aug 30 last year.

During the coroner's inquiry yesterday, details of the events that led up to the cheerleader's death emerged as his coach, Mr Andrew Ong, testified.

BREATHING PROBLEMS

Mr Ong told the court he was attending to another group that was doing more advanced manoeuvres when the accident happened.

Mr Lai had been practising back handsprings with two other more experienced cheerleaders.

In the "five to 10 seconds" it took the coach to get to the other side of the hall, Mr Lai's face had turned purple.

"I thought he had breathing problems so I got four others to carry him out of the hall for fresh air," said Mr Ong.

This was because the hall was "quite stuffy", and Mr Ong thought his charge could not breathe.

The group tried to keep him "as flat as possible", but as they did not think he had any back problems, they carried him with each person holding a part of his body.

After they put him down on the ground outside, Mr Ong said Mr Lai's complexion improved for a bit before he turned purple again.

By then, an ambulance had been called.

BACK HANDSPRINGS

The group was made up of mostly first-year students, so Mr Ong said he was doing more exercises to get them exposed to cheerleading.

Aug 30 was the first time the coach, who took over around July last year, had taught the group how to do back handsprings.

Mr Ong told the court yesterday that back handsprings are commonly confused with back flips. (See illustration on right.)

The coach said that after he went through a demonstration and some safety briefings, the team broke up into groups with two spotters - individuals who watch out for safety - to go through the motions.

The spotters were senior members of the team. Mr Ong said other members later told him that Mr Lai had successfully done a back handspring earlier.

THE COACH

A veteran cheerleader himself, Mr Ong said he has been in the sport for seven years.

At the time of the incident, he was also coaching the cheerleading team in Anglo-Chinese School (International).

When asked about his coaching licence, he said he had gone through a two-day test before he got the Class 1 coaching certification from the Federation of Cheerleading (Singapore), which issues it on behalf of the International Federation of Cheerleading (IFC).

IFC is the world governing body of cheerleading based in Japan.

SAFETY ISSUES

During the inquiry, Mr Ong said he knew of studies that said cheerleading is cited as being second only to American football when it came to the level of danger.

"In some studies, they say that it's even more dangerous than American football," he said.

State Coroner Imran Hamid replied: "In American football, they have protection. Cheerleading doesn't."

During training for most cheerleading teams in Singapore, there are no medical staff on standby, Mr Ong said, and the Ngee Ann Polytechnic team has only a first-aid kit and ice on standby to treat minor injuries like sprains.

After the incident, Ngee Ann Polytechnic has suspended cheerleading practice indefinitely.

Mr Ong said he would try to suggest to the school to have an ambulance and trained medical staff on standby during training sessions due to the high risk of the sport.

The inquiry continues on March 18 with other cheerleaders likely to take the witness stand.

In American football, they have protection. Cheerleading doesn't.

- State Coroner Imran Hamid in response to coach Andrew Ong's statement that cheerleading is ranked second most dangerous, after American football.

tnp@sph.com.sg