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PIAA says additional concussion legislation unnecessary

Chris Harlan
| Thursday, Sept. 30, 2010

The Safety in Youth Sports Act passed this week by the state House was both "unnecessary" and merely "feel-good" legislation, PIAA executive director Brad Cashman said Wednesday.

The bill, passed 169-29, was designed to better protect middle and high school athletes from serious brain trauma.

Along with providing added education, the legislation requires coaches to remove players showing concussion symptoms and would prevent athletes from returning to play until cleared by a health-care practitioner.

Cashman said those measures already are required by the PIAA and that the National Federation of State High School Associations has developed an educational program for concussions.

"It's a feel-good piece of legislation, which is fine," Cashman said, "but I think it's unnecessary. We have more than adequately covered the subject."

Despite passing the House, the bill might die before receiving Senate approval in the handful of remaining session days.

There are dozens of issues competing for time in the waning session, said Senate Republican spokesman Erik Arneson, including the consideration of complex issues surrounding a proposed Marcellus Shale natural gas tax.

"We will review the bill," Arneson said. "It is an important issue. Right now it seems unlikely there will be enough time left to advance the bill to the governor's desk. It's possible, but not likely."

He said Sen. Patrick Browne, R-Allentown, also has legislation dealing with concussions.

The Senate's last scheduled session day is Oct. 14. The Senate won't return to session after the election. All current bills die Nov. 30, the official end of the session.

"We are not going to oppose it," Cashman said, "and we certainly are not necessarily in support of it, either."

According to PIAA rules, an injured athlete must have a licensed physician of medicine or osteopathic medicine examine the athlete and sign a form clearing the student to return to competition.

House Bill 2728, introduced by Rep. Tim Briggs, D-Montgomery County, expands that scope to allow an adequately trained certified athletic trainer to medically clear a concussed athlete, a stipulation Cashman said the PIAA dislikes.

"We just don't believe it's appropriate for anyone other than a licensed physician of medicine or osteopathic medicine to be able to return an athlete to play for any reason, much less a concussion," Cashman said.

Kittanning athletic director Todd Harvey said licensed athletic trainers like himself are experienced when dealing with concussions but believes current PIAA regulations are adequate.

"I really don't think we needed another law," Harvey said. "I thought the PIAA had it set up fairly well. Any time we have a kid with a concussion, we always consult with a doctor, so it's never my final decision."

Unlike the PIAA regulations, the House bill includes punishments for a coach who fails to remove an injured player or returns an athlete to competition without medical clearance.

But those penalties — ranging from a one-year suspension to being banned from coaching — would need to be implemented by each school district. Cashman said those are hard to enforce, the reason the PIAA does not levy penalties against coaches.

McKeesport's Jim Ward dislikes the idea of state-imposed punishments.

"I understand the need to protect the kids' brains; I'm a father and would want the same for my kid," Ward said. "But I don't think there are too many coaches out there who would knowingly play a kid with a concussion. To take away our livelihood if that accidentally happened would be pretty harsh."

Jeannette coach Roy Hall and Highlands' Sam Albert said they believe concussions already are handled cautiously by coaches under current PIAA guidelines.

"I thought it had been handled very well," Hall said. "All the schools have trainers, and I think they've been doing a heads-up job."

"Once, there's anything, (even) a sprained ankle, I have no say," Albert said. "It's (the trainer's and doctor's) decision if he's allowed back in the game or not. Back when I played, coaches would say, 'How many fingers am I holding up?' If you could count, you went back in."

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