State drafts new rules for student athletes


Public health officials are aiming to have new rules, training and reporting requirements in place for the start of the 2011-2012 school year to better protect student athletes from traumatic head injuries that can occur during sports and other extracurricular activities.

Six months after Gov. Deval Patrick signed a new state law governing safety regulations for school athletics, public health officials on Monday presented the Public Health Council with a set of draft regulations on track to be approved by late spring.

Under the rules, all coaches, parents and students participating in athletics would be required to complete an annual approved online training course about the risk associated with head injuries, which takes about 30 minutes.

Students would be required to submit a form detailing all prior head injuries, and reports would have to be submitted throughout the year on head injuries sustained by students. Students injured during a school-related activity would be required to be removed from practice or competition immediately, and parents promptly notified of a head injury or possible concussion.

Student athletes would only be allowed to return to sports activities after being cleared by a licensed physician who has documented training in concussion assessment and management.

Coaches will also be held accountable through regulations requiring them to teach techniques, such as tackling in football, that minimize the threat of head injury.

“It’s a group effort to identify and get the kids to sit out,” said Lauren Smith, medical director of Department of Public Health, responding to a question about how the regulations will address pressure on student athletes from parents, coaches, and peers to shake off injuries.

The regulations apply only to public school athletic and extracurricular programs, as well as private school sports programs that belong to the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association.

Council members expressed a desire to report back to the legislature as the program gets implemented with the hopes of possibly expanding the rules to govern college athletics and youth sports such as Pop Warner football run at the local city and town level.

“What we’re trying to prevent is not concussions. What we’re trying to prevent is the (recurrence) of concussions and the conditions such as post-traumatic stress that come with those injuries,” said Dr. Alan Ashare, chairman of the Massachusetts Medical Society Committee on Student Health and Sports Medicine and chairman of the MIAA sports medicine committee.

Massachusetts was the seventh state in the country to adopt a law aiming to protect student athletes from head injuries. Roughly 36,000 students in Massachusetts, or 18 percent of those participating in extracurricular or sports activities, reported suffering a head injury in the previous 12 months, according to the 2009 Massachusetts Youth Health Survey.