New law focuses on head injuries

Published 9:19 am Monday, August 15, 2011

Gov. Robert Bentley signed a new law into effect on Tuesday directly involving the proper actions to be taken when a concussion occurs.

The law, which was written and sponsored by the Alabama Statewide Sports Concussion Taskforce ensures that if an athlete receives a concussion athletic organizations are required to provide information on sports concussions to all athletic participants and their families; ensure that all coaches have training in the recognition of concussions and if a participant is suspected of having a concussion that participant must be removed immediately and not be allowed to return until a physician clears that participant.

The new concussion law might require athletic organizations to take those steps, but Escambia County High School athletic director Mark Heaton has been using those requirements since he began at ECHS in 2010.

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When it comes to athletes at ECHS, the coaches always have a watchful eye out for injuries, Heaton said.

“We keep a real close eye on all of our athletes whenever they are on the field or the court during a practice or game,” he said. “The symptoms for a concussion are easy to recognize, but it’s important to have the cooperation of the kids. We feel like our players do a good job of communicating with us when they have injury problems. We do our best to monitor them and if there are symptoms then we get them off the field immediately and don’t allow them to get back on the field until a doctor has cleared them.”

Handling a concussion is something that Heaton takes seriously.

Following the rules regarding concussions is important to Heaton because his players are important, he said.

“With a concussion, it’s our responsibility to get them out of the game or practice and have them checked,” he said. “We are going to adhere to whatever they have for us. It’s a law now, and it involves the direct safety of our kids, so we are going to adhere to the higher standard.”

An injury such as a concussion happens regularly in sports especially contact sports like football.

Multiple concussions also occur, but how that is handled is up to the doctor and the player, Heaton said.

“That’s a call by the doctor whenever an issue like that takes place,” he said. “I’ve been in that position before when a kid has multiple concussions. Once a doctor clears that player, it’s ultimately up to the player and their family to decide if they want to play further. We are going to follow whatever they say because we are going to always support the player and their family in that decision.”

Communication is the key to keeping players safe from the damage of head injuries.

The coaches at ECHS make sure they stay on top of their players, especially after hard hits, Heaton said.

“We always need to communicate with our kids,” he said. “If we see a kid take a good shot or hit the ground hard, we make a point to speak with them and see how they are responding verbally and physically to make sure we don’t see any symptoms.”

As of the 2010-11 school year, all coaches in the AHSAA are required to take an online concussion course. The course gives coaches an idea of what to look for when dealing with concussions.

While the course helps teach the symptoms of a concussion, the best training is actually seeing one when it happens, Heaton said.

“All coaches have to take a test that involves a concussion course,” he said. “The state mandates it and prepare us, but the best training is hands on when you see it happen. In a sport like football that is bound to happen eventually, so once you see it then you really know what to look for.”