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Concussion law could impact local sports

March 3, 2013
By SETH STASKEY - Sports Editor (sstaskey@timesleaderonline.com) , Times Leader

No matter what sport or what level of sport you're talking about, the battle against concussions and head injuries is one of the main topics.

As more and more awareness is being brought to concussions, the state of Ohio has been very pro-active.

And it's getting much more stringent in the coming weeks.

Effective April 26, House Bill 143 becomes law. The bill requires all coaches and officials - both high school and youth - to undergo an online concussion training course and it also requires an an athlete to have a doctor's permission to return to play after suffering a concussion.

The Ohio High School Athletic Association already had similar regulations in place, which requires an athlete be immediately removed from a competition, or practice, should he or she show any signs of a concussion.

Therefore, the new law won't have all that big of an impact on area high schools because their coaches - high school and junior high - are already required to have a sports medicine training. However, they will need to complete the online concussion course, which is good for three years, similar to the Pupil Activity Validation.

While the coaches aren't going to deal with much new, sports officials will now have to take this course as well. Therefore, any track or tennis official as well as baseball or softball umpire will be required to go through the 30-minute training.

It is believed that the OHSAA will be checking to make sure all officials have proof of the new law or they could be suspended.

The video is currently available, at no cost, on the National Federation of State High School Associations (nfhs.org).

A big concern for the youth sports organizations is the level of unknowns. The State of Ohio's never fully come out and said the ramifications or punishments should something happen and the individual or group not be in compliance with the law.

However, most youth sports associations will certainly want to err on the side of caution because of the number of possible lawsuits and battle against liabilities that could happen.

"The biggest concern, for coaches, isn't that we don't want to do the right thing, but when we're dealing with volunteers, it's a matter of whether or not the coaches, themselves, are liable," said St. Clairsville Area Soccer Association President Dave Hahn.

One of the areas where all youth sports could be affected is attracting coaches. Obviously, it's done on a volunteer basis and the additional responsibilities may cause some to shy away from getting involved.

"We already ask our coaches to go through a safety-risk assessment kind of program for protection of the kids against pedophiles and others who might harm children," Hahn said. "So, this will be another 30-minute video and just another hurdle to get volunteers."

With youth baseball and softball leagues getting ready to begin their seasons in the middle of next month, many plans are being put in place quickly as junior sports organizations across the area work to become in compliance with the new law.

"There's no way around it," said St. C. Junior Sports spokesman Scott Ketter said. "We're looking for ways to make it easier for those people who volunteer."

Ketter and other members of the St. Junior Sports Board have been kicking around different ideas on how to make sure all of their coaches and umpires have gone through the course.

"We may let each individual take it and then report his or her registration number to us, so we can keep a master list or the Ohio Department of Health is offering a CD, so we may bring everyone in for a meeting and show it to the entire group."

According to Ketter, baseball and softball practices begin on April 1.

"We're not going to wait and address this," Ketter said. "There's a whole new level of responsibility now and we have to treat it with the right kind of respect. There's no getting around it."

While the rule affects all sports, many believe the rash of concussions occurring in contact sports such as football, hockey or even wrestling led lawmakers to their current stance.

Locally, the Young Buckeyes is one of the area's longest running youth tackle football organizations.

Spokesperson Dan Carpenter said the Young Buckeyes' board has already begun the process of making sure all of its coaches are in compliance.

"I feel the law is a great thing," Carpenter said. "We all need to be more aware of concussions and their signs."

Obviously, youth football isn't played at as fast or physical of a level because of the size and age of the players, but Young Buckeyes knows it's not immune from something happening.

"In the few years that I've been involved, we've not had any complaints or signs of concussions," Carpenter said. "But, we do take kids out of the game immediately if there's a big hit or something."

Buckeye Local Panther Youth Wrestling program president Jimmy Light said, "the law is well overdue."

During a recent youth tournament, a competitor actually sustained a head injury. Light and others made an immediate decision to pull him from the tournament.

"I just didn't feel comfortable sending him back onto the mat," Light said. "I know it's hard in some cases, but I think there needs to be more medical personnel on site."

Unlike youth soccer, youth wrestling or youth football, baseball and softball often times uses non-state registered officials. For instance, they may use high school students or if they get into a real pinch, they could have to get someone out of the stands.

Those days, however, could be gone due to the law because the individuals working the games must have had completed the class as well.

"We have to be organized," Ketter said. "We'll be double checking on our umpires and have to keep better track of who the coaches have asked to umpire. It's just a matter of individual responsibility."

 
 

 

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