Protecting Student Athletes: Are states doing enough to keep student athletes safe from heat and head injuries?

Author:Ollove, Michael

Another school year began with the death of a student athlete. This time, Dominick Bess, a 14-year-old high school football player from the Bronx, collapsed on the field and died of an apparent cardiac arrest, possibly the result of high heat and humidity.

Nearly 8 million kids participated in high school sports last year, the most in U.S. history. The shocking deaths of young student athletes have prompted some to ask if we are doing enough to keep kids safe as they collide into one another, run wind sprints, or dig in against hard-throwing pitchers.

State Roles and Rankings

Some state lawmakers think more can be done. The California Legislature is considering a bill that would bring athletic trainers under state regulation. Others, including Florida and Texas, are strengthening policies on training during high heat and humidity and on the use of defibrillators during sporting events and practices. They are also moving to require schools to devise emergency plans for managing catastrophic sports injuries. And in response to growing concerns about concussions, Texas recently embarked on the largest study ever of brain injuries to young athletes.

But overall, a recent study by the Korey Stringer Institute at the University of Connecticut (which provides research, education and advocacy on safety measures for athletes and others who engage in strenuous physical activity) found that all states could do more to keep high school athletes safe. And some have a long way to go.

The study has prompted a strong pushback, including from the national organization that represents state high school athletic associations. But it also has encouraged some athletic trainers and sports medicine physicians who hope poor rankings will impel their states to make improvements and avoid exposing student athletes to needless risk.

"I was embarrassed we were last," says Chris Mathewson, head athletic trainer at Ponderosa High School in Parker, Colorado, speaking of his state's showing in the study's ranking of state safety efforts. "My hope is it will kick people in the pants and get people to do something about it."

The rankings by the Korey Stringer Institute are based on whether states have adopted more than three dozen policies or laws derived from recommendations published in 2013 by a task force that included representatives from the institute, the National Athletic Trainers' Association and the American College of Sports Medicine. The recommendations cover...

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