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Transforming Health: Protecting student athletes

Written by Matt Paul, Reporter/Producer | Aug 22, 2013 4:00 AM
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(Hummelstown) -- High school coaches, athletes and parents in Pennsylvania are working to better understand concussions and recognize their symptoms. As summer comes to a close they’re about to begin a second school year under the Safety in Youth Sports Act.

A generation ago they called it getting your bell rung. Maybe sit out a few plays, then you're back in the game. But Lower Dauphin High School football coach Rob Klock says, today, head injuries are taken seriously.

Klock says he immediately sits a player down if he appears dazed, or shows other signs of a concussion, whether the player likes it or not.

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Head coach Rob Klock at practice

“We had a young man... he wanted to finish the game and we said no,” Klock explains. “He actually got argumentative with us. He wanted to go back in that football game, and I respected him for it, but there was no need. There really was no need. To take a chance on a kid's health, no, it's a football game.”

In between two-a-day football practices, coach Klock talked about his role recognizing possible concussions, ensuring proper evaluation and treatment.

But he wouldn't even be at practice if he didn't complete an annual concussion management certification course as mandated by the Safety in Youth Sports Act.

In addition to requiring all coaches to complete concussion training, the law requires student athletes to be immediately removed from play if they exhibit signs of a concussion. The student can't return until he or she's been evaluated and cleared -- in writing -- by an appropriate medical professional. Coaches who violate those guidelines are to be suspended for the rest of the season after a first offense.

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Head trainer Paul LaDuke at practice

Head athletic trainer at Lower Dauphin High School, Paul LaDuke, says the new law doesn't just apply to football, and notes that's because concussions can occur in any sport.

“Girl’s soccer is probably the highest sport, probably more than football,” LaDuke says of concussions among student athletes. “Cheerleading actually has a lot because of the aerial stunts they'll do... I'll see probably two or three concussions a year with our cheerleading staff.”

Written into the measure is language that specifically covers cheerleading activities.

The Brain Injury Association of Pennsylvania helped craft the law, and vice president Mike Miller is pleased with the final product. He calls it one of the more comprehensive concussion laws in the nation. But Miller points out another bill has already been introduced that would make it stronger.

“It adds more to the list of people who have to have mandatory annual training,” Miller says. “It adds penalties onto the school districts that are found in violation of the bill. Under the current bill the only penalty that's assessed is on the coach.”

Senate Bill 74 has been referred to committee, but has yet to see any action.

Lower Dauphin High School is already exceeding the law’s requirements -- it's holding informational sessions for students and parents, and conducting baseline assessments to aid in concussion evaluation. Both steps are recommended, but not required, by the act.

Perhaps the most important part of the law is the requirement that students and parents sign a concussion information and education sheet prior to each sports season.

Coach Klock says his players are taking brain injuries more seriously than ever, and notes his coaches will continue to try to minimize concussions through better equipment, proper technique and smarter practice.

“And maybe, maybe, we can actually reduce them. But, if they happen -- and we know from time to time they are going to happen -- the kids I believe are going to get much better care, and mainly because of this law.”

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