Community mourns woman killed in cheerleading accident

Kerri Roche

The instructors and cheerleaders at Energized Athletics in Watertown are relying on each other for support after 20-year-old Lauren Chang sustained severe injuries during a competition in Worcester Sunday.

The cartwheels and back-flips that regularly pound the mats are now replaced with hugs and consoling words, owner Kim England said.

Chang, who was a back spotter in the elite cheerleading program Energy Cheer, was taken to St. Vincent’s Hospital and transferred to UMass Memorial Medical center, where she was pronounced dead Monday afternoon. She was injured during the Spirit Cheer Minuteman Mass. Cheerleading competition.

As the community of cheer enthusiasts trickle in and out of the facility, England said she is unable to describe the emotional atmosphere at Energized Athletics.

“I don’t even know how to explain it. We just keep coming in here and being together, just staying close,” England said.

Chang, a graduate of Newton-North High School, was a student at Suffolk University but was not currently enrolled, England said.

Instead, she worked and trained feverishly for cheerleading competitions, producing an athletic and strong body that allowed Chang to compete at some of the most elite levels in the state.

“She lived here. Any waking moment she had she was in here,” England said. “She wasn’t just your typical cheerleader who came in for her two-and-half-hour practice.”

When Chang wasn’t training she was coaching, assisting and mentoring the many others who came to Energized Athletics to hone their cheerleading abilities.

“She always came in with a smile,” England said. “She was always helping us any way she could. … This past Saturday she worked with a team to help them with their stunting. Anything we ever asked her to help out with she helped. She was great with kids. She was definitely a mentor to these kids. She was friend, she was a big sister, she was just a great person to all those kids.”

Her squad, “Open Kinetic,” which went on to be the highest scoring team of the day, will not head to a competition scheduled for this weekend. They will honor her the following weekend by performing at Six Flags New England in Agawam in her memory and symbolically lifting her into the air.

“Lauren always wanted to fly but she was too tall,” England said.

Although Chang’s death has been ruled an accident, England said officials have yet to determine exactly how the injury occurred.

“We don’t know what happened,” England said. “The end result is her lungs did collapse. … As far as her being kicked by a tumbling person, I don’t believe that’s possible.”

Some media reports have said Chang was kicked in the chest, causing her lung to collapse. A tumbler, England said, is a cheerleader who performs a variety of flips and cartwheels on the mat, not one of the athletes hoisted above spotters’ heads.

So far, England said the available video footage did not capture any injury.

“I know that’s what the reports have said, I just don’t know how that is possible,” she said.

Chang’s death follows a 2005 cheerleading accident in which a 14-year-old Medford girl was killed during a routine practice.

According to the North Carolina-based National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research, as the number of cheerleaders and competitive programs increase across the country, so do the number of immediate and indirect accidents.

Since 1982, nine high school-aged cheerleaders have died from injuries sustained through cheerleading moves. In 2004, over 28,000 cheerleaders were seen in emergency rooms across the country from injuries sustained during competitions or practices, according to the research statistics.

Stacey Brinegar, a former varisty cheerleading coach at Newton-North High School who now coaches at Bentley College, said as cheerleading has grown more competitive, squads are attempting more daring moves compared to the yesteryears of pompoms and spirit fingers.

“I think part of the reason there are so many injuries is because people still think it's not so hard,” said Brinegar, who knew Chang as a junior varisty cheerleader but left Newton-North before getting the chance to work with her.

Although Chang was not performing for a school team, many high schools and colleges still treat cheerleading as a club or activity, not a sport that requires the utmost attention to safety and protocol, said Brinegar.

When she received news of the accident, Brinegar said she informed the girls she coaches, many of whom were friends with Chang.

“Unfortunately its shocking,” said Brinegar. “This is just a really horrible accident.”

Daily News Tribune staff writer Jillian Fennimore contributed to this report. Kerri Roche can be reached at or 781-398-8009.