Safety From the Sidelines

With no federally mandated safety regulations in effect for high school sports, what can local districts, and parents, do to keep their young athletes safe?

By Deborah Skolnik

With the fall athletic season underway, students across the Hudson Valley are actively participating in scholastic sports. Though keeping these children safe is everyone’s primary concern, many are surprised to learn there are no federal requirements for the type of safety personnel who must be present at practices and games. Instead, it’s up to the schools in each state to develop safety policies and programs.

The Mount Pleasant School District, for example, has enlisted Jeanne Wilson, MD, a pediatrician at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital, a member of the Westchester Medical Center Health Network (WMCHealth), to serve as Medical Director for its athletic programs.

According to Dr. Wilson, even the best coaches have only one set of eyes. “If a child is injured or experiencing a health problem, the coach may not realize it right away,” Dr. Wilson explains. That’s why it’s important to have a certified athletic trainer present at games. These highly trained professionals have skills that include the ability to help evaluate and treat minor sports injuries and to provide valuable information to physicians. “If you have a young athlete with the symptoms of a concussion, the certified athletic trainer can help assess the situation,” explains Dr. Wilson.

Key to creating a safe school-sports environment is a system with ready access to accurate and up-to-date information. Dr. Wilson and school staff review each child’s medical history, then put it all into a database, along with copies of doctors’ forms. “We note all of our students’ allergies and medications,” she says. Having ready access to such information facilitates the identification of students with medical needs that could arise during practices and games.

Having automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) nearby is also crucial, according to Dr. Wilson. These portable electronic devices are used to deliver an electric shock through the chest, potentially saving the life of an athlete (or spectator) who’s suffered a sudden cardiac episode.

Parents also play a big role in creating a safe and injury-free environment. In addition to turning in your child’s pre-participation physical exam, there are other things you can do. Here are some tips from Dr Wilson:

Make sure your child is physically and mentally “in shape.” With assistance from coaches, parents should ensure their children are physically and mentally prepared for the sport/activity level at which they are playing. Don’t push kids into something they don’t want to do.

Do your research. Find out who will provide care to your child in the event of injury and ask to review their credentials. A background check should always be performed on coaches and volunteers, to ensure they are trained in the sport they’re coaching and that they are appropriately credentialed. They should also be trained in CPR, first aid and in the use of AEDs.

Away games require extra vigilance. Ask who is on hand at games: Do they have a certified athletic trainer or other medical professional in addition to the coach? Are AEDs nearby for emergencies?

Provide coaches with your child’s medical history. Parents should complete an emergency medical authorization form, providing parent contact information and permission for emergency medical care for their children. Check with your school/league to obtain the form.

Make sure your children are eating and drinking to win. Without proper nutrition and hydration, young athletes will feel sluggish, which can increase their chances of injury.

Ask if the school/league has an emergency action plan. Every team should have a written emergency action plan, reviewed by the athletic trainer or local Emergency Medical Service.