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Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
East Noble High School football players practice this week. A new law designed to protect young athletes against head injuries took effect on July 1.

A layer of protection

Just as high school football teams are gearing up for their season, a welcome new Indiana law is now in effect to better protect student athletes from concussions and head injuries.

The law, which took effect July 1, requires increased education for coaches, parents and athletes on the symptoms and appropriate treatment of concussions. But more importantly, it sets strict requirements for the immediate removal of an athlete from a game or practice if there is any suspicion of a concussion or head injury. The law also requires that the student be evaluated by a licensed health care provider specifically trained to evaluate head injuries and that the student not be allowed to participate in any athletics until they have written clearance from the health care professional.

Indiana is one of 38 states with a law designed to protect the brains of young athletes.

“It essentially creates a formal procedure for a school to document student’s injuries,” said Robert Faulkens, assistant commissioner of the Indiana High School Athletic Association.

He said because there is more awareness of concussions and head injuries in high school sports in recent years, more instances of concussions are being reported.

He expects to see reports go up in the next couple of years before leveling off.

Students playing contact sports such as football and soccer are most vulnerable.

“The research is pretty strong,” Faulkens said. “We need to take care of our kids. It lessens the chance of a second or third injury when you do things right the first time.”

Once an athlete has had a concussion, there is an increased risk of a more severe injury with each subsequent instance of head trauma.

“I think the beauty of the Indiana legislation is it encompasses all those organizations involved with high school-aged athletes,” Faulkens said. “We have 160,000 high school athletes, but there are a lot more who play with private clubs and organizations.”

The comprehensive law makes it clear what the protocol is when a child is suspected of having suffered a concussion, but it will only be effective if coaches and parents, as well as students, comply with it.

That means that a coach will have to pull his star player even if it means losing a game and even if the player insists he or she is just fine. That means that Mom and Dad will have to stand firm about following the doctor’s advice when their child begs them about not wanting to miss another practice. It typically takes at least two weeks for a child to recover from a concussion.

It also means that athletes will have to be smart enough to know that they are not sissies for sitting out a couple of games in order to make sure they are healthy.

“No, we’re not playing that way,” Faulkens said. “The medical professional is the one who makes the call, and they are going to be liable. We’ve seen enough that coaches are not going to supersede the protocol and put a student at risk just to win a game.”