Among the measures being readied for action in the lame-duck legislative session is a House-passed bill that would provide much-needed protection for young athletes. The persuasive thinking behind the bill — backed by Akron Children’s Hospital and other medical organizations — is that coaches and referees should remove from the field competitors who exhibit symptoms of a concussion or head injury, and the athletes should return only when given medical clearance.
As reported by Cheryl Powell, the Beacon Journal medical writer, the focus of the bipartisan bill is on education, rather than penalties and enforcement. The approach is realistic, given the hundreds of organizations that offer everything from gymnastics to T-ball. The bill is not expected to have a significant impact on schools that are part of the Ohio High School Athletic Association, which has similar rules in place for head injuries.
Under the bill, coaches and referees would have to complete a free, online course and parents would have to review and sign a fact sheet on concussions to be developed by the state Department of Health. Increasing awareness of the long-term damage that can be done to still-developing brains is a crucial part of any prevention strategy.
Still being debated in the Senate is what type of personnel must give clearance for an athlete to return to practice and competition. As passed by the House, the bill would allow physicians to make the call, plus other licensed health-care professionals who deal with concussions as part of the regular care they provide. An expected amendment from Sen. Scott Oelslager, a North Canton Republican, would strengthen the bill, permitting health-care professionals to be involved, but requiring a licensed physician only to give final approval.
Ohio is one of just nine states without “back-to-play” rules. OHSAA records show 336 athletes were removed from competition last year after showing signs of a concussion, but the association covers just 40 percent of school-age athletes. Given the size of the problem, young athletes deserve all the protection legislators can provide.