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High school sports law is signed

Heat exhaustion. The dangers of steroids. A lack of oversight of the deaths and injuries suffered by Kentucky high school athletes.

A wide-ranging bill signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Steve Beshear is an attempt to address all of those problems in high school athletics, starting in August.

The law — spurred by the heatstroke death last year of Max Gilpin, a football player at Louisville's Pleasure Ridge Park High School — has gotten attention for requiring that coaches trained in heat illnesses and other medical issues be present at all high school practices and athletic events.

But the law also mandates the collection of data regarding high school sports injuries in Kentucky, and it will require more oversight when injuries occur.

"This is an important piece of legislation that I hope will protect the health and safety of our student athletes," Beshear said. "I applaud the sponsors for their efforts to protect our students from the dangers of heatstroke, illness and injuries incurred while participating in sporting events through the bill's requirements for proper training and equipment."

High school sports officials said they will move quickly to meet a fall deadline to implement the law, which applies to all high school sports and all high school coaches.

"Our administration will make it happen, since making our student athletes safe is the most important thing," said Victor Black, athletic director at Casey County High School.

Kentucky High School Athletic Association Commissioner Brigid DeVries said she will be meeting with the Kentucky Board of Education in the next few weeks to discuss the bill and to review current requirements for coaches working in any capacity with student-athletes.

Gilpin's coach, David Jason Stinson, drew national attention to Kentucky when he was indicted recently on a charge of reckless homicide. Stinson maintains his innocence.

"Our hope is the new law passed by the legislature can enhance the existing regulations the association already has in place," DeVries said.

KHSAA rules now include completion of a course in CPR, attendance at a sports medicine symposium, and a coaches' education course that includes some medical information.

But a floor amendment that Republican Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr of Lexington made to House Bill 383 goes beyond that by requiring coaches to pass a test after a 10-hour course on medical and sport safety issues. At least one person who has passed that test must be at high school athletic practices and competitions beginning in the 2009-10 school year.

The new law requires that the course, taught by a Kentucky-licensed certified athletic trainer, physician, nurse, or physician's assistant, be reviewed for updates every 30 months.

The bill's sponsor, state Rep. Joni Jenkins, D-Shively, originally introduced legislation requiring that coaches bring pools with ice to each hot weather practice and competition.

But certified trainers and medical groups were afraid that put too much pressure on coaches to know when an athlete required an ice bath. Officials from the National Athletic Trainers' Association, who want more certified trainers at Kentucky schools, said this week that they are still concerned that the law will give the public false confidence that coaches are trained to deal with medical emergencies.

Lawmakers are already laying the groundwork to refine the bill in 2010.Within 30 days, the KHSAA must appoint a work group that will make recommendations to the legislature by October.

A public signing of the bill is tentatively scheduled for Thursday, according to Jill Midkiff, a spokeswoman for the governor.

In a separate effort on Thursday, a committee of the Kentucky Medical Association is scheduled to make additional recommendations to the KHSAA.

Meanwhile, athletics directors in the state said they were waiting for instruction on how to carry out the law.

"I don't think it will be a hardship," said Tony Sosby, athletic director at Bourbon County High School. "If it's for the safety of the kids, I'm all for it."

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