Everyone from T-ball players to budding young soccer stars soon would need clearance from a doctor or other medical expert before returning to play if they show signs of a concussion.
Gov. John R. Kasich on Thursday signed the state’s new youth concussion rules — House Bill 143 — into law after passage by legislators earlier this month.
The rules, which go into effect in 90 days, apply to all youth athletes statewide.
The law 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.
The law’s enactment is a step in the right direction to raise awareness statewide about the importance of recognizing and properly treating concussions in young athletes, said Dr. Edward Benzel, chair of the Cleveland Clinic’s Department of Neurological Surgery.
Benzel is part of a pediatric mild trauma brain injury guideline workgroup established this summer by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to develop diagnosis and management guidelines for concussions and other mild traumatic brain injuries.
“The heightened awareness ... will allow us to improve every year in making sports safer for our kids,” he said.
Ohio was among only a handful of states without back-to-play rules to protect youth athletes from concussion complications.
The plan for youth sports in Ohio closely mirrors rules the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) enacted in 2010.
Under those standards, athletes can’t return to play after a suspected concussion without a release from a doctor or athletic trainer. Those rules, however, do not cover youth sports or activities not sanctioned by the OHSAA, such as high school lacrosse.
Athletes age 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, medical director of the Sports Medicine Center at Akron Children’s Hospital.
Congeni was among the proponents who previously testified before lawmakers in favor of the measure.
In an email, Congeni said the law’s passage “is a very important step in protecting the safety of young athletes.”
“Brain injuries or concussions that occur in sport are known as ‘the invisible injury’ or the ‘silent epidemic’ because they are not always obvious like other sports injuries,” he wrote. “For that reason, the fact that many medical disciplines around Ohio such as physicians, athletic trainers, physical therapists and chiropractors have come together to help craft and support this bill is important.
“The legislators have also come to understand the importance of this legislation, and they, too, have worked with a sense of urgency to make it a reality,” Congeni said.
“There is much more to do in 2013 and beyond, but the spirit of cooperation and collaboration in making this bill a reality is very heartening.”
Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or email@example.com. Follow Powell on Twitter at twitter.com/abjcherylpowell.