High School Football

Icy pool requirement at high school practice removed from bill

At the urging of Kentucky medical officials, a state lawmaker gutted her legislation requiring high school coaches to provide an icy pool at outdoor practices to avoid heatstrokes.

A new version of the bill, approved by the House in a 97-0 vote Monday, calls for state education officials to consider medical science to determine the best course of action when a student athlete suffers heat exhaustion.

It was the case of a Kentucky football coach indicted in the heat-related death of his player that prompted Rep. Joni Jenkins, D-Shively, to file the bill requiring an icy pool at practices and games for any team.

A leading expert says the pools save lives — if an athletic trainer or medical official is on site to determine that the athlete is suffering from a heat-related illness. Many school districts don't have certified athletic trainers or the money to have an ambulance onsite during practices and games, according to Kentucky High School Athletic Association spokesman Elden May.

Only 25 percent of schools in Kentucky now have full-time certified trainers who are likely to be at practices, said Greg Rose, the president of the Kentucky Athletic Trainers Society. An additional 50 percent have varying levels of medical care.

Jenkins said the Kentucky Medical Association was concerned that her bill relied too heavily on coaches to assess players' medical conditions.

"The Kentucky Medical Association said it was inappropriate for the legislature to mandate a medical procedure," she said. "They said it would be asking that coaches make medical diagnoses."

KMA spokesman Marty White said his group was contacted about the bill by the University of Louisville department of emergency medicine, which suggested more study because information conflicts on how best to treat heat injuries.

White said the KHSAA's current policy deals with preventing heat-related illness but does not specifically outline what to do in the event of such an emergency.

Jenkins' revised legislation requires a review of the KHSAA's heat-illness prevention policy. It also requires the state school board to decide whether a new policy should be adopted on what to do when heat illness occurs.

A committee of the Kentucky Medical Association is trying to set a meeting date to make recommendations to the KHSAA, an agency which is overseen by the state school board, White said.

The KMA committee makes recommendations every two years on heat illnesses, but medical association officials say they are especially eager to look at the policy in the aftermath of a Louisville athlete's death.

Max Gilpin, 15, died Aug. 23 of complications from heatstroke, three days after collapsing at a practice for Louisville's Pleasure Ridge Park football team.

A Jefferson County grand jury indicted Gilpin's head coach, David Jason Stinson, in January on a charge of reckless homicide. Stinson has pleaded not guilty.

Doug Casa, who led a national task force on heat illnesses in 2003, said the key piece of equipment that will save lives is a sturdy child's pool that costs about $100. It's a staple at hot-weather practices for many high school, college and professional teams across the nation, he said.

But the pool should be used only when a trainer or appropriate medical care provider is onsite to make the clinical decision, says Casa, director of athletic training education at the University of Connecticut.

May, the KHSAA spokesman, said Kentucky does not require every district to have an athletic trainer. Such legislation was proposed several years ago but it wasn't passed because of financial issues.

The KHSAA encourages schools to develop an emergency action plan and implement it, especially where resources are scarce and an EMT might not be readily available.

Jenkins said that if the Senate approves her bill, she and co-sponsor Rep. Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, will monitor the new heat exhaustion policies that result. "If we have to make adjustments we will be back," she said.

Graham, who sponsored an amendment that encourages high schools to purchase defibrillators, said he thought the bill was at least a start. "We hope to expand it to middle schools and elementary schools later," he said.

House Bill 383 now goes to the Senate, where leaders will assign it to a committee.