Area high school athletes and coaches began football practice Monday with equal parts excitement, determination and dreams of glory.
But before the drumbeat gets fully underway, coaches, parents and athletes would do well to consider a note of caution from the Pennsylvania Medical Society. Excitement can quickly turn to tragedy, and so young athletes’ health and well-being must come first.
Already this year a player has died. According to the Associated Press, a western Pennsylvania high school football player collapsedAug. 6 during the year’s first practice and died a short time later at a hospital. The 16-year-old reportedly had just finished sprinting and collapsed as he was walking off the field.
In recent years, new state laws have helped to raise awareness of the potential for and risks of injury. Coaches are required to take online courses each year and pass tests on concussion management and sudden cardiac arrest. The courses give coaches a better idea of what red flags to look for and how to respond.
For instance, according to the medical society news release, the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Prevention Act establishes protocol for a player’s removal from play and requires clearance by a doctor or certified nurse practitioner in order to return. There are penalties for not following the protocols.
Similarly, the law on concussion management requires that athletes treated for concussion be cleared by a doctor, certified health care professional or psychologist trained to evaluate and manage concussions before playing again. For a first violation, a coach is suspended for the rest of the season; a second violation nets suspension for the next season and a third is grounds for permanent suspension from coaching.
Rules regarding sports practice also are aimed at protecting athletes. Last year, according to theAP, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association began requiring schools to hold three days of practice to acclimate players to the heat before doing contact drills.
Unfortunately, greater knowledge, protocols and precautions won’t always be enough. The athlete who died this past week was practicing in a relatively moderate summer temperature of 80 degrees, and paramedics were available at the practice to attend to him.
But the laws are still important. As Dr. Bruce MacLeod, president of the Pennsylvania Medical Society, noted in regard to the law on handling sudden cardiac arrest, “There’s a lot of pressure on coaches to win and many athletes and their families have dreams of athletic scholarships to college. It’s tempting to play an athlete because of that pressure. [This law] takes that pressure off the coach’s back while building greater awareness of sudden cardiac arrest.”
Asingle goal— protection of the athlete— and communication about potential risks among athletes, coaches, parents and medical professionals are as important as any laws.
As the 2014 season begins, we wish good luck to local high school football teams and fans, but we also hope they will keep the season’s inevitable ups and downs in perspective. A player’s opportunity of a lifetime shouldn’t end up costing him or her a life.
Digital First Media