A law intended to reduce head injuries among student athletes in Pennsylvania is now being fully implemented as the fall sports seasons are underway. In preparation for the start of the new athletic seasons, Pennsylvania's coaches had to take a class this summer on recognizing concussions.
However, some schools are a step ahead of state law. A few years ago, the Cumberland County School District implemented its own head-injury protocol. Cumberland Valley High School created a test to determine whether a player is ready to return to an activity after suffering a hit. Athletic Director Mike Craig said it's a questionnaire students take at the beginning of a season to establish what their baseline answers and reaction times are like when they are healthy.
"It takes the guesswork out of when the kids able to come back from a head injury after suffering a concussion and our athletic trainers do that," said Craig. "So if we have an athlete that gets injured, they will then have to come back and retake the baseline test, and if they don’t get back to baseline, then they cannot return to play until they do."
Craig said the big change is that all coaches now have to take an online certification class. "It takes about 20 to 25 minutes to take the course, and it gives them the basics on concussions in sports and what they need to know," Craig said. "So we have to make sure all our coaches, volunteers and paid coaches, have this certification."
The so-called "concussion law" also requires coaches to pull athletes out of play if they take a blow to the head. But schools are the only ones who can enforce it.
The state Department of Health, required by the law to make information available to schools about head injuries, has no authority over schools and the penalties they set for coaches who ignore the new rules. The state recommends a handful of free, online classes. A Dauphin County high school athletic director expressed some concern the classes might one day come with a price tag, but a state Department of Health spokeswoman says the agency will make sure the online instruction remains free.