The Colonial - - OPINION -

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

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