Durbin bill targets concussions in student-athletes

News-DemocratOctober 21, 2013 

U.S. Sen Dick Durbin speaks about head trauma in student athletics.

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Two weeks ago, Collinsville Kahok offensive lineman Tanner Hails took a helmet-to-helmet hit in practice that left him dizzy and unable to stand correctly.

The hit left the 15-year-old with a concussion, a brain injury that if mismanaged leads to chronic cognitive issues.

To combat the injuries, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin has introduced legislation intended to prevent and treat concussions in student-athletes.

"Injuries are a part of all sports, but as we learn more about the long-term effects of concussions and how frequently they are ignored, it is clear we need to do more to confront this health risk, especially among students," Durbin said Monday. Durbin introduced the legislation on the football field of Collinsville High School.

Durbin, a Democrat representing Illinois, said the Protecting Student Athletes from Concussions Act would set minimum state requirements to ensure students, parents and coaches have the information needed to address head injuries.

"Young athletes are at the greatest risk for sports-related concussions, and we need to make sure we are doing all we can to protect them while they compete," Durbin said. "Illinois and Missouri have been leaders in tackling this issue, but not all states have been so forward-thinking."

The legislation would direct states to develop concussion safety guidelines for public schools and post educational material on school property and websites about the injury's symptoms, risks and recommended responses.

The proposal also includes a "when in doubt, sit out" policy requiring students suspected of suffering from a concussion to sit out any athletic event for the remainder of the day. The school would be required to contact the parents of the injured athlete, and the athlete would not be allowed to return to play without a written release from a health care professional.

Sophia Sharos, a soccer player at Collinsville High School, suffered a concussion last year when she and another player collided while attempting to head the ball, according to her mother Fran Sharos.

Fran Sharos said she wholeheartedly supports the proposed legislation.

"I'm very delighted," Sharos said. "This will be great for every athlete."

Fran Sharos said she worries now every time her daughter jumps to head the ball, and wishes the student-athletes would wear soft helmets.

Collinsville High School Athletic Director Amanda Baugher said the policy is needed because some athletes fear telling coaches and trainers of their injuries because they do not want to sit out the game.

Hails said it's tough to stay away from a sport while recovering.

"For most people, they want to remain in the game because they don't want to let the team down," Hails said. "My brother had a concussion, though, so I know what can happen. I'm just going to get through the recovery process as quick as possible."

Durbin said concussions are not always easily diagnosed, and symptoms don't always manifest immediately.

"Young athletes don't want to let their coach or teammates down, so helping them -- as well as coaches, school officials, and parents -- recognize the signs and symptoms of concussion can go a long way toward prioritizing a player's safety," Durbin said.

Upon passage, states would have five years to instruct schools about concussion plans or face forfeiting 5 percent of federal funding from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

An estimated 140,000 students suffer concussions while playing high school sports each year, according to the National Federal of State High School Associations.

Contact reporter Daniel Kelley at dkelley@bnd.com or 618-239-2501.

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