File 2011

The Oak Park and River Forest High School board has taken a step in creating a new policy to address student athletes who suffer concussions during games or practices.

The board on Nov. 17, approved for first reading Policy 5330 dealing with concussions and head injuries, the first such policy the board has ever undertaken. OPRF’s athletic department, however, already has procedures in place for protecting students suspected of having a concussion, school officials say.

A state law that went into effect over the summer now requires all school boards in Illinois to adopt their own policy. More than a dozen other states have similar laws. Those states also require athletes to be removed from a game, and only allowed to return after being medically-cleared by a doctor or certified trainer.

The OPRF board approved its draft policy at its regular meeting last Thursday. The measure was approved unanimously and will now go before the board’s policy committee for a second reading.

The draft policy, in part, states that a student athlete who “exhibits signs, symptoms, or behaviors consistent with a concussion in a practice or game shall be removed from participation or competition at that time.”

Also, athletes removed due to a possible head injury “may not return to that contest unless cleared to do so by a physician licensed to practice medicine in all its branches in Illinois, or a certified trainer.” The policy also calls for staff to notify a parent or guardian if their student exhibits concussion symptoms.

Two years ago, the Illinois High School Association handed down similar requirements, including having school districts develop a “concussion management plan” and specific board policy.

John Stelzer, OPRF’s athletic director, said he knows of at least four OPRF football players who have suffered concussions this season. OPRF, he added, has also used doctors and trainers to evaluate players for years. What’s new this current school year is the “cognitive ability tests” students are given, Stelzer said.

Every student athlete is tested before ever playing a game, according to Stelzer. The test includes having students ride a stationary bike for a period of time, and testing their coordination by doing certain movements. The students are tested again after they’re pulled from a game or practice. Stelzer said if an athlete is pulled, they sit out the rest of that day’s contest.

“The high school has done this for years. If a student athlete suffers a concussion during a game or practice that student stays out,” Stelzer said. “The goal is to treat them and to give the kids rest, and get them back to playing when it’s safe for them to play.”

In June, Illinois became the 29th state to adopt a law specifically dealing with concussions by student athletes—Washington State being the first in 2009.

The legislature there passed a law named after Zackery Lysteadt, who survived a severe brain injury during a middle school football game in 2006. The then-13-year-old was hit twice during the game and left with a concussion but was sent back in by coaches who thought he was well enough to return, according to news reports at the time.

Lysteadt collapsed at the end of the game. It was later discovered that he had bleeding of the brain. The teen had two brain surgeries after having to breath with a respirator. Lysteadt currently uses a wheelchair. He, along with his parents, have since become advocates on educating the public on high school, sports-related head injuries. They also sought the passage of laws in their state and others on the matter.

The Washington State law mandates that a student be removed from a game or practice if suspected of having a concussion—only a licensed health care professional can OK a student to return within days or weeks after sitting out.

Stelzer said OPRF uses a similar timeframe before allowing their players to play or practice again.

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