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1 in 27 WV high school football players report concussion symptoms

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About one in every 27 high school football players in West Virginia reported concussion-like symptoms this season, according to rough numbers from the West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission.

Lawmakers heard the latest in a Nov. 26 interim committee meeting. WVSSAC Executive Director Gary Ray said this is the first year the WVSSAC has had intense collection procedures for injuries, and not all the data is in yet. Ray said they will share their information with the WVSSAC Sports Medicine Committee as well as the National Association of High Schools to help in writing rules for all sports to implement more safety measures.

Ray said as of right now, about 200 students who played high school football this year reported signs and symptoms of a concussion. Ray said there are 5,425 high school football players this year.

"As far as we're concerned, we're very well pleased that the policy is working," Ray said. "We feel we're headed in the right direction."

A bill that would have required education for coaches and parents about head injuries as well as reporting them and keeping athletes out of games or practices if they have signs or symptoms of a concussion did not pass last year, but the WVSSAC put education and return-to-play requirements into its rules this year.

Ray said 12 female high school soccer players reported the signs or symptoms of a concussion this year out of a total of 1,639 players. As for male high school soccer players, seven reported the signs or symptoms of a concussion, out of 1,807 players. Four cheerleaders out of a total of 2,023 reported the signs or symptoms of a concussion, as did two volleyball players out of 2,230.

"I think the report reflects that we need to give some consideration to certified athletic trainers in our schools, and I know it's a big ticket item – I've been in education 42 years now, so I understand that," Ray said. "As we move forward with thinking about safety for our students, and that's our key component right now, the safety, we need that consideration, and I urge you to think about that."

Ray said 1,200 people have taken the online education course about the signs and symptoms of a concussion, including 956 coaches, who are required to take it, and he expected even more participants as the winter sports season started.

Dr. Dan Martin of the WVSSAC, who has been in charge of collecting all the reports, said they are looking at making it digital next year with weekly reminders to keep schools more timely. Martin said so far the report has about a 65 percent return rate, which is statistically "ok right now."

He said the WVSSAC also is looking at who is on the field during athletic events and what their levels of credentials may be, from nurses to EMS providers, athletic trainers or physical therapists.

Martin said the WVSSAC also has added a pre-season workshop for all health professionals who wish to attend so they can hear the latest in protocols every year to be sure everyone is on the same, most current page.

"I think our folks in the field understand the seriousness because the Legislature is taking a look at it," Ray said.

One big hesitation for several lawmakers last year was a question over immunity on the field for volunteers with medical backgrounds who lend a hand.

Lawmakers also heard from Chuck Jones with the Board of Risk and Insurance Management.

"Our goal is to provide protection for the volunteer physicians and athletic trainers to allow them to do the job they're trained to do without fear or fear of legal action," Jones said.

He explained that BRIM has two policies to protect those individuals. The primary policy allows for as much as $1 million per occurrence with no group limit, and an excess policy for county boards of education that allows an additional $5 million with no aggregate.

"We have tried our best to provide protection for those medical professionals so that they would have the prevention liability coverage they need to do the job," Jones said.

Sen. Ron Stollings, who is a physician, said the state statute makes it a little confusing, because it seems to state that a volunteer physician needs to have a prior arrangement with a coach or school principal.

"This goes a long way in, I think, reassuring a lot of the docs that provide assistance," Stollings said. "It's not obvious in the statute, but I think we can work with the statute in some way that says if you're a volunteer capacity in some way, you're covered."