If you go to a college or high school football game, you'll see dedicated athletes giving their all in a pastime that in some cases, unfortunately, leads to tragic injuries. And we're not talking about the guys in pads and helmets.

Those young people on the sidelines exhorting the crowd with chants and acrobatics are actually at more risk of grave damage than the running back hitting the hole.

It may be hard to believe, but cheerleading produces a larger number of catastrophic injuries -- concussions, skull fractures, cervical spine injuries, paralysis and death -- than any other sport, male or female. Kids get hurt in gymnastics, softball, soccer and basketball, but there are twice as many severe casualties in cheerleading as in all the other female sports combined.

That's the finding of the Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which notes that the number of cheerleaders is growing rapidly even as the pastime has become more daring. Five times as many females over the age of 5 participate today as in 1990, many of them on competition teams. And over the past decade, the incidence of concussions rose by an average of 26 percent each year.