High School Football

Senate strengthens bill to protect high school athletes from heatstroke

At the urging of a Lexington lawmaker, the state Senate on Thursday passed significantly strengthened legislation to help protect high school athletes from heatstroke and other injuries.

The proposal by Republican Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr of Lexington requires the presence of at least one person who has completed a sports safety course at every high school athletic practice and competition beginning in the 2009-2010 school year.

The course would include emergency planning, heat and cold illnesses, head, neck and facial injuries and first aid, according to Kerr.

"There would always be a coach who would be able to administer this kind of help," Kerr said Thursday.

State Rep. Joni Jenkins introduced the original legislation, House Bill 383, after the heatstroke death last year of 15-year-old Max Gilpin, a football player at Louisville's Pleasure Ridge Park High School.

Gilpin's case received national attention after coach David Jason Stinson's indictment on a charge of reckless homicide in the death. Stinson maintains his innocence.

Kerr's amendment directs the Kentucky Board of Education to require high school coaches to complete a safety course and to pass an examination beginning next fall. The Kentucky High School Athletic Association already requires coaches to take a training course that deals with some health issues, including nutrition and reducing injuries.

But Kerr's amendment goes beyond that, mandating a course, taken online or in person, that is taught by a Kentucky-licensed certified athletic trainer, physician, nurse, or physician's assistant.

Kerr said her amendment will benefit high school athletes who participate in a wide range of sports, indoor and outdoor.

The National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance Study showed that 1.41 million high school students were injured in 2007-2008.

Jenkins' original bill would have required Kentucky high-school coaches to be trained to use external defibrillators, devices that can shock patients' hearts after heatstroke. School districts would have had to provide defibrillators only if funds were available.

The measure also would have required coaches to provide icy pools at hot weather practices and events.

However, the Senate Education Committee voted on Monday to alter the bill so that it required only a study of the issue by the KHSAA and the Board of Education and other professionals.

On Thursday, the Senate also passed the provision calling for a study group.

In addition to coming up with proposed legislation, the study group will have to gather data regarding sports injuries in Kentucky and review whether there is enough oversight when injuries occur.

Meanwhile, an existing committee of the Kentucky Medical Association that makes recommendations every two years to the KHSAA on medical issues will meet March 26, said its chair, Madisonville physician James Bowles.

Bowles said the committee will discuss both prevention and treatment of heat illnesses.

The bill now goes to the House for concurrence.

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