Ohio lawmakers took a major step on Tuesday to tackle head-injury risks for thousands of young athletes statewide.
The Ohio Senate approved a measure to require all youth athletes to get clearance from a doctor or other medical expert before returning to competition if they show signs of concussion.
The plan — backed by Akron Children’s Hospital, Summa Health System and other medical groups and hospitals statewide — also requires youth coaches, officials and referees to complete free basic online training about concussions.
In addition, the Ohio Department of Health will develop a fact sheet about signs and symptoms of head injuries to distribute to parents.
Young athletes risk lifelong learning disabilities and other problems if they don’t treat their head injuries correctly, said Hollie Kozak, a licensed athletic trainer and manager of the Summa Center for Sports Health. The center provides services to high school sports programs and youth organizations throughout the region.
“It’s not just about sports, it’s about their academic futures,” said Kozak, who testified before lawmakers in favor of the rules.
A slightly different version of the proposal, House Bill 143, already passed the state House of Representatives.
The measure now is back in the state House, which could decide as early as today to approve the changes. If that happens, the rules would go into effect 90 days after being signed by the governor.
Ohio is one of only nine states without back-to-play rules to protect youth athletes from concussion complications.
The plan for youth sports in Ohio closely mirrors rules already enacted in 2010 by the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA).
Under those standards, student athletes can’t return to play after a suspected concussion without a release from a doctor or athletic trainer. However, the existing rules don’t cover youth sports and activities not sanctioned by the OHSAA, such as lacrosse.
Athletes 14 or younger are at even greater risk because their brains still are developing and they don’t have the same muscle strength as older athletes, according to Dr. Joseph Congeni, director of the Akron Children’s Hospital Sports Medicine Center. Congeni also testified before lawmakers in favor of the proposed rules.
During a recent appointment at the Sports Medicine Center for her son, Dawn Hoopengardner of Doylestown said she supports the state’s plans to protect young athletes.
Parker Hoopengardner, 10, began seeing double after sustaining a head-to-head hit during a youth football game in September.
Because of lingering problems, he missed the remainder of the season and playoffs, as well as two weeks of school, his mother said. He finally got cleared last month to start basketball practice.
“We weren’t going to take any chances,” his mother said. “A leg can be fixed with surgery, but a brain, you can’t do much except rest.”