Friday March 15, 2013

NEAL P. GOSWAMI

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- Legislation requiring schools to provide medical professionals trained in concussion detection and treatment for "collision sports" sailed through the Senate Wednesday and will now be considered by the House.

The bill, S.4, cleared the upper chamber on a 26 to 0 vote. It will require schools to provide a health care provider at home games and matches for football, hockey, lacrosse and wrestling. It also encourages schools to offer a health care provider for other contact sports.

"The basic premise is that every school should have an action plan to deal with kids that get concussions and to help reduce the risk of concussions," said Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, the bill’s main sponsor.

Sears worked with Mount Anthony Union High School Athletic Director Tim Brown to change the original language in the bill. Brown and other school athletic officials "a lot of concern about the scope of the bill."

The bill was introduced in January right before a meeting of athletic directors, Brown said. Many of them "had some real concerns" about an initial requirement to provide an athletic trainer for every contact sport, he said.

"There were just some items in there that were of real concern, especially for athletic directors that don’t have trainers like Mount Anthony," Brown said.

Athletic directors were concerned about the cost of providing medical personnel for all sports. "There were two factors. One was the financial piece, because nobody is offering any funding, just saying, ‘This is what you need to do,’" Brown said.

Additionally, Brown said there is a finite number of athletic trainers available for hire in Vermont. "Some of the more obscure areas would have difficulty," he said.

Additionally, school athletic officials did not want game officials to be in a position where they had to determine if a student athlete could return to a game after a head injury.

"We all agree that the concussion course that coaches are now required to take would probably be good for officials to take just to educate everybody about some of the signs. But, the concern of the ADs was that we didn’t feel that the officials should be put in a position to make a decision," Brown said. "Officials are supposed to remain neutral and not get involved in those types of decisions."

Sears said the legislation also requires each principal or headmaster have an "action plan" in place to deal with head injuries. The plan must make clear who makes a decision to remove an athlete from play after a head injury, what steps must be taken to return to play and who makes the final decision that a student can return to plan.

The action plan must be provided to each student athlete as well as a parent or guardian. The plan must be signed and returned before a student athlete can participate in training or competition associated with a school, Sears said.

The legislation follows a law passed last year that requires all high school and middle school to take an online course about concussions before they can begin their duties.

Brown said the efforts taken by lawmakers should help improve safety for student athletes in Vermont.

"Anything that can be done to help educate kids, parents and coaches about concussions is a good thing," he said.

Contact Neal P. Goswami at ngoswami@benningtonbanner.com, or follow on Twitter: @nealgoswami