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Concussion Bill Meets Muster for State Legislators

Gov. Scott Walker has on his desk new legislation that would require young athletes suspected of having a head injury to be removed from the activity until he or she can be evaluated by a health care provider.

Randee Drew saw stars as he dropped to one knee. 

Moments before, the 190-pound Northern Illinois cornerback attempted to tackle a 270-pound Wisconsin Badgers tight end in a game at Camp Randall Stadium during the 2002 season. 

"I whacked him with everything I had," said Drew, a member of the Nicolet High School Athletic Hall of Fame.

"I was kind of woozy for about two plays," he added during a recent interview. "I said, 'Please Lord, don't throw the ball over here,' because I wasn't all there."

Given the hard-hitting nature of football, there is not much that can be done to prevent concussions, according to Drew. However, Drew said that once an athlete is dazed by a big hit, trainers, coaches and parents need to proper care is given to the young athlete.

"Precautionary measures are never a bad thing, especially when you are playing such a gladiator sport like this," said Drew, who was signed by the San Francisco 49ers before playing in NFL Europe and the Canadian Football League.

State lawmakers take notice

It's not just major college and professional athletes who deal with head injuries. Concussions and related incidents are common among young athletes in high school and club sports, and prevention and management been a focus both for school officials and lawmakers.

State Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and Reps. Anthony Staskunas (D-West Allis), Mike Kuglitsch (R-New Berlin) and Sandy Pasch (D-Whitefish Bay) co-authored or co-sponsored Assembly Bill 259, which requires an athlete who is suspected of having a concussion to be removed from the activity and not allowed to participate until evaluated and cleared by a health care provider.

"The idea is to make people aware of what the signs are for a concussion," Delaporte said. "Sometimes they are hard to diagnose because you're not bleeding, you don't have a broken arm. It's not obvious sometimes … but it has to be taken seriously."

The bill — which has been approved by the Legislature and forwarded to Gov. Scott Walker for his signature — calls on the Department of Public Instruction and Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association to "develop guidelines and other information for the purpose of educating athletic coaches and pupil athletes and their parents or guardians about the nature and risk of concussion and head injury in youth athletic activities."

The bill also does not limit enforcement to high school sports specifically, despite the involvement of the WIAA.

School district responses

For Scott Kugi, activities coordinator at Muskego-Norway School District, one of the positive components of the legislation is that it gives teeth to local school district policies.

"We need to be able to say that, besides the medical evidence that we know to be true, this is a law," Kugi said.

The district follows a protocol set forth by the International Conference on concussions and WIAA guidelines. Those guidelines, in general, recommend concise evaluation, incremental steps when assessing an athlete's injury and a progressive steps to return to play.

During the past several years, the district has made strides creating an awareness in regards to concussions, said Kugi. The school outsources to Aurora Sports Medicine, which does a significant amount of work educating athletes, coaches and parents.

"It wasn't easy because quite often there are still people that believe that you need to brush it off and toughen up," Kugi said. "We had to convince some people that we are doing the right thing."

The Shorewood School District does not have a formal policy in place, but . When an injury does occur, evaluators can administer new tests and compare the results with the baselines to guide the decision on allowing athletes back to action.

School district and club sports are also challenged when star athletes play through injury and pain because, if they sit, they might miss an opportunity for a scholarship.

"I don't know many people … who would say they need to come out," Drew said. 

Randy1949 March 23, 2012 at 05:16 PM
I think the biggest point of this discussion is that our priorities are skewed. Adolescent males (mostly) get exaggerated accolades for the ability to run a ball down a field, while those who excel at academics go unsung. Where are the booster clubs for the chess club or the orchestra? When it comes to the ability to work as a team, there are plenty of other endeavors that don't involve growing bodies taking hits from which they may never recover entirely.
235301 March 23, 2012 at 05:20 PM
Football has a huge problem and it is head injuries. The NFL knows this and is furiously plugging the holes in a leaky bucket by trying to restrain the players in the type of hits they are allowed to apply. The problem is it isn't enough and can't ever be enough due to just the simple physics of the collisions. I don't think there are any simple answers to this problem. Could it end up being the death of football? Yeah and the NFL knows it. The decision should be left to the kid and the family on whether or not they want to play any sport, including football. Yes, the risk of head injuries are higher with football than with other sports. But almost all sports have risks of serious injury. Hockey is high on that list. Baseball can be also...think of some of the bean balls that can be delivered to the head. Even biking can produce some particularly gruesome head shots. These sports do indeed build character from sportsmanship to persistence. I would not throw the baby out with the bathwater here. We've already gone way too far with our helicopter parenting and are producing a particularly whiny, no backbone generation. Banning these sports would be just another step in the wrong direction.
Randy1949 March 23, 2012 at 05:42 PM
No one is saying ban them. Parents and coaches simply need to get their priorities in order. Is it really worth a drop in cognitive ability in later life simply to have the high school sports experience? How many of these kids have a real chance at going on to the pros, and even if they do is it really worth it? Do we really need more ex-ballplayer motivational speakers and used car salesmen? What this bill does is to give overzealous coaches ( who may have taken a few too many shots to the head themselves) from urging kids back into the game when they may be hurt in a minor way.
David Tatarowicz March 23, 2012 at 06:43 PM
@ Football Mom --- so what is the point? Are you saying that we should not be concerned with kids suffering brain damage, death or worse ??? Your son sounds admirable --- and you are definitely trying to live off of HIS achievements -- hence the moniker Football Mom --- Why not Academic Mom --- or Navy Mom ? And despite the actions of others --- why does anybody on these postings think that "Idiot" is an intelligent or even a relevant response --- those words are best used when those who use them are looking in the mirror
Isaac March 29, 2012 at 02:32 AM
This bill isn't here to ban the sports, but just prevent injured kids from injuring themselves further. If you get a concussion on a play, you really shouldn't be going back on the field where you risk getting hit again.

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