A New Ohio School Football Season Begins With Safety In Mind

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The 2011 Bexley Football Lions team picture.(Photo: Bexley Lions Football team)
The 2011 Bexley Football Lions team picture.(Photo: Bexley Lions Football team)

High school football players are back on the fields, preparing for the fast approaching season, trying to stay cool and trying to stay safe. Revelations about the long term effects of concussions have coaches keeping a closer eye on their players. Now they may be required by law to do so. Ohio lawmakers are considering a bill requiring young football players and other athletes to be pulled from competition after suffering a head injury.

In Bexley, football players in full pads run drills preparing for the season. Coaches guide them through formations and tune their technique

Bexley head football coach John Smith has been coaching football for nearly twenty years. When it comes to recognizing the potential seriousness of injuries suffered in a game, especially head injuries, he says things have changed a lot since he was a player.

“What you once thought was a great hit would be determined a concussion at this point in time. Headaches were a part of the game and we were taught that if you blacked out during a hit it was a great hit.” –Bexley Coach John Smith

Now he says coaches look at blacking out and headaches differently.

“But obviously those are now warning signs and things that kids need to tell a coach or a trainer about immediately if things like that happen.”

Athletic Trainers Spot Injuries

For most of his career, Smith had to spot a head injury and take the player out of the game.  But the school district has taken that decision out of the coaches’ hands. Now the decision rests with Gail Swisher, an athletic trainer with Nationwide Children’s Hospital in the Sports Medicine department.

Swisher attends games and practices and alerts Coach Smith when players are engaged in dangerous activities like hitting with their heads down or when practice needs to be called because of excessive heat or lightning strikes.  If a student suffers a head injury, she looks for certain symptoms.

“There are things like headache, feeling lightheaded, nausea: things that someone would feel. There’s also kind of emotional symptoms so someone might become overly emotional or have sadness or become more irritable and, in particular with children, they may have difficulties concentrating.”

Now an Ohio bill could require people like Gail Swisher at all playing fields.

Ohio Law Still Pending

Thirty-eight states now have a law requiring young athletes and their parents be informed about the risks of concussion, removing players from a game who have sustained a head injury and requiring injured players to be cleared by a health professional before returning to play or practice. Here the Ohio House has passed such a bill but it’s still pending in the Senate.

House Democrat Sean O’Brien co-sponsored the measure. He thought it would sail through the House and Senate, but one section of the bill became a sticking point.

“The big snags are the return to play. Who can authorize the return to play? Is it physicians? Is it chiropractors? Everyone was jumping on board trying to figure out who can authorize the return to play.” –State Rep. Sean O’Brien

Under O’Brien’s bill, coaches would require special training.

“What we tried to do was make it as simple as possible. There’s an on-line course for the coaches. And the other thing is, I think one of the most important things, there’s immunity for the coaches.

Still coaches aren’t taking any chances. Bexley Coach John Smith is glad he has a trainer to spot head injuries. He says a student athlete’s safety is paramount.

“We go in with the preparation now that we’re going to lose kids due to concussions. It’s just the nature of the animal. So we kind of put ourselves in a mindset that that is going to happen and when it does happen we just have to adjust and hope that it works out for the best.”

The bill would apply to more than football players. It applies to any Ohio Student playing a sport.