High School Football

Report calls for trainers, tracking

The Sports Safety Work Group, created by state law following the heat-related death of a Jefferson County football player, is calling for Kentucky schools to have certified athletics trainers and to collect information on sports injuries.

Among the findings in the Sports Safety Work Group's final report:

■ Kentucky doesn't keep track of student athletes' injuries, so officials have no way of knowing which high school sports need more regulation.

■ Only a third of Kentucky schools have certified trainers to help prevent and treat injuries. State laws regarding trainers are too restrictive.

■ Middle school sports teams, high school bands and dance groups should have the same safety requirements high school sports teams have.

The report from the 22-member work group, made up of education, athletics and medical professionals, recommends that the Kentucky Board of Education and the General Assembly require that "every public high school in the state" have certified athletic trainers, who receive certification from the Board of Medical Licensure.

That would give Kentucky the best chance of preventing injuries, educating athletes and coaches and collecting accurate injury data, the report said.

The report said that schools can't afford certified athletics trainers, and that state laws limit where they can work and how they bill for their services.

State Sen. Ken Winters, R-Murray, who co-chairs the General Assembly's Interim Committee on Education, said Friday that he thought lawmakers would act on the report.

"We will look in-depth at the recommendations ... and try to implement as many as seems feasible," Winters said.

Winters said he was concerned that Kentucky doesn't track information about school sports injuries.

National studies have provided important information that have led to new rules. A North Carolina study found that from 1982 to 2007 in the United States, there were 149 fatalities, 369 permanent disabilities and 346 serious injuries in high school sports. In that same 25-year period, 25 football players in high school and college died from heat-related injuries.

The University of Kentucky is doing research on injuries among student athletes in Fayette and Madison counties, but there is no statewide effort to track them.

The work group's report said that school personnel should be required to submit data to researchers whenever sports injuries occur. It also said that state lawmakers should appropriate money to collect the information.

"We need to have a database that reflects what's actually happening out there in the field in order to make good judgments at the school level and the legislative level," Winters said Friday.

Meanwhile, State Rep. Hubert Collins, D- Wittensville, a member of the Interim Committee on Education, said lawmakers would need to make sure that certified athletics trainers at all high schools were necessary before having a "knee-jerk reaction."

"You're talking about a lot of money," Collins said.

The report also recommended that middle school coaches be required to take the sports safety course that has been mandated for high school coaches.

The General Assembly created the work group after the heat-exhaustion death in August 2008 of Max Gilpin, a football player at Louisville's Pleasure Ridge Park High School. Gilpin, 15, collapsed during a practice on a 94-degree day.

Gilpin's coach, David Jason Stinson, was indicted on a charge of reckless homicide in what attorneys think is the first criminal charge against a coach in a practice death. Stinson was acquitted in September.

Gilpin's death and the publicity surrounding Stinson's criminal case resulted in several efforts to keep players in Kentucky safer. One was a new law that required high school coaches in Kentucky to take an online course covering athlete safety before their teams can play.

Elden May, a spokesman for the Kentucky High School Athletic Association, said that as of Wednesday, 8,278 people had completed the course.

Beginning with the 2010-11 school year, every coach has to complete the course as a condition of being rehired.

All coaches should be required to take precautions to protect students on days when poor air quality affects those with respiratory problems, the report said.

"Coaches at all levels ...head and assistant, paid or unpaid, need to be trained in basic life-saving and sports safety skills," the report said. "In no way are these skills meant to serve as a substitute for qualified, licensed medical professionals but rather to teach the coaches how to respond to emergency medical situations," the report said.

The report notes that some key efforts to make practices and competitions safer have already come about since Gilpin's death.

The Kentucky Medical Association made new recommendations on heat illness prevention. The KMA report says that it is "highly desirable" that the school officials fill a pool with water and ice to cool overheated athletes and have personnel trained in cooling techniques.

The KHSAA also strengthened its bylaws so that coaches are trained in how to use an automated external defibrillator, a portable device that allows the heart to reestablish an effective rhythm.