When athletes around Delaware County beging practicing for fall sports next month, they’ll have new rules and regulations to protect from the effects of concussions.
In May Governor Brad Henry signed Senate Bill 1700 into law. Effective July 1, the bill was modeled after a Washington state law passed last year and will mean that schools across Oklahoma will have to develop policies and procedures to deal with concussion. The Washington law was enacted following an incident in which a high school athlete suffered brain damage and partial paralysis after returning to a football game following a concussion.
There have been several such incidents around the country, and as the effects of concussions become more known, many more people are beginning to take the situation seriously. The Oklahoma legislature, in passing the bill, declared the situation an “emergency… being immediately necessary for the preservation of the public peace, health and safety.”
The new law requires each district to have a licensed health care provider who, according to the wording of the law, must be “trained in the evaluation and management of concussions." The HCP, who can be a doctor, a nurse, an EMT or another provider chosen by the school district, will be responsible for evaluating athletes suspected of having a concussion and clearing them to return to practice or competition.
Additionally, an acknowledgement statement and information sheets for both athletes and their parents will be distributed to all athletes and must be signed and returned to the school along with other required physical exam forms before the athlete can participate in a sport.
School boards are also being required to work with the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association to develop policies and procedures to report and track concussions and for returning athletes safely to participation once they have been diagnosed.
Grove Public School athletic director Will Jones says that the district is already working to implement the new policies.
“We’ve got copies made of all the paperwork and we’re getting those out to coaches. We’re also working on getting the policy written.”
Jones noted that the district’s policy toward concussions would go before the board for approval on August 10.
“I’m supportive of the legislation overall,” Jones said. “If it helps one student-athlete out then it’s worth it. A lot of it is not different from what we’ve been doing other than the literature and the additional coaches’ training.”
All athletic coaches at the high school level in Oklahoma will be required to watch a 20-minute video produced by the National Federation of State High School Associations that deals with the diagnosis and treatment of concussions. Only 34 high schools in Oklahoma currently employ athletic trainers on site, meaning that coaches and the HCP will be primarily responsible for evaluating athletes during practice and competitions.
“We at Grove have been on top of that,” Jones said. “[Head football coach Dennis] Millican always errs on the side of caution.”
School-provided physical exams are currently scheduled for August 5 in Grove, with fall sports scheduled to begin practicing within the first two weeks of the month. Samples of the new forms required for all athletes are currently available on the OSSAA’s website.