Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
A law intended to prevent head injuries among student athletes took effect this summer, right as athletic departments were getting ready for the fall sports season.
The measure requires the state Department of Health to provide more information about concussions to schools. It demands the commonwealth’s schools penalize coaches who don’t pull student athletes from an activity after they’ve suffered a blow to the head. The biggest, immediate change is the training requirement: coaches – volunteer and paid – must take an online course to help them recognize head injuries.
Even so, the law is folding easily into existing protocols at area schools. A few years ago, Cumberland Valley High School in Cumberland County created test to judge whether a player is ready to be tagged in again after a swift noggin knock.
It’s a basic questionnaire, said the school’s athletic director, Mike Craig. Students take it at the beginning of a season to establish what their answers and reaction times are like when they’re not seeing stars.
“It takes the guesswork out of when the kid’s able to come back from a head injury after suffering a concussion,” Craig said.
But schools are the only ones who can enforce the so-called concussions law. The Department of Health has no oversight over schools and the penalties they set for coaches who flout the new rules. Craig said the lack of teeth – and apparent necessity at his own school – doesn’t make the bill superfluous.
“I don’t think that it’s a bad thing that this bill is in place,” he said. “I mean, the more education that we can provide to people about the seriousness of concussions, you know, the better.”
As for the online training required of coaches – the state recommends a handful of courses, one of which is offered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All are free of charge. Dave Bitting, athletic director at Lower Dauphin High School, expressed concern that eventually, they may come with a price tag, but a Department of Health spokeswoman said the agency will make sure free remains available.
Photo credit: Wikipedia.
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