On July 1, a new state law took effect that is designed to prevent or limit the severity of concussions and brain injuries. The School Sports Head Injury Prevention Act spells out how and when a student may return to competition after suffering a head injury.
The law states:
If a school athlete suffers, or is suspected of having suffered, a concussion or head injury during a sport competition or practice session, such school athlete immediately shall be removed from the sport competition or practice session.
Any school athlete who has been removed from a sport competition or practice session shall not return to competition or practice until the athlete is evaluated by a health care provider and the health care provider provides such athlete a written clearance to return to play or
"It really helps our coaches and our athletic trainers," said Campus High School Athletic Director Richard Elliott. "It takes the pressure off them to have to be able to diagnose something they're not trained in at all."
Elliott said severe head injuries aren't limited to football. Last season at his school, a cheerleader, basketball player and soccer player suffered concussions, in addition to three football players.
The state law may be new, but the policy regarding written medical clearance was adopted for the 2010-2011 school year by the Kansas State High School Activities Association (KSHSAA). Executive Director Gary Musselman said parents and student athletes are required to read and sign consent forms with detailed information about concussions and warning signs."If we're going to err we're going to err on the side of caution," Musselman said.
Concern over head injuries has also caused the National Athletic Equipment Reconditioning Association (NAERA) to adopt a new policy. Beginning September 1, 2011, NAERA's members "will not recondition/recertify any football helmet 10 years of age or older."
The intent of the policy is to keep student athletes in the safest equipment possible, said NAERA Executive Director Ed Fisher.
Fisher acknowledged the policy could place a financial burden on middle schools and poorer districts, which have a lot of old helmets.
"We lost 72 helmets due to the 10 year rule," said Andover Middle School Athletic Director Brent Jones. He said middle school athletic budgets are minuscule compared to high schools and that the nearly $10,000 expense for new helmets wasn't easy to swallow.
"The bottom line is it's best for the kids," said Jones.
Football will always be a violent game. However, lawmakers, coaches, and equipment providers are hopeful that new policies and increased awareness about head injuries will lead to fewer long-term effects for student athletes.