Head injury protocol could become law
THS trainer hopes to see bill keep student-athletes safe
Tonganoxie High athletic trainer Mark Padfield recently found himself rooting for an outcome away from the field of play.
SENATE BILL 33
Also known as the school sports head injury prevention act, Senate Bill 33 was introduced by the Senate Committee on Health and Public Welfare at the request of the Kansas Athletic Trainers Society and is now under consideration in the House. The bill would not only require high school and middle school athletes and their parents to sign a concussion awareness form before each school year, but also would require student-athletes suspected of suffering a concussion to be removed from the field immediately and cleared by an osteopath or physician before playing or practicing again.
As the public relations officer for the Kansas Athletic Trainers Society and a member of its executive board, Padfield had reason to cheer Feb. 23 when the Kansas Senate passed Senate Bill 33 with a 37-0 vote.
Also known as the school sports head injury prevention act, the bill was introduced by the Senate Committee on Health and Public Welfare at the request of KATS and is now under consideration in the House. The bill would not only require high school and middle school athletes and their parents to sign a concussion awareness form before each school year, but also would require student-athletes suspected of suffering a concussion to be removed from the field immediately and cleared by a health care provider before playing or practicing again.
Those requirements were instituted by the Kansas State High School Activities Association before the current academic year, but Padfield said KATS and other groups testified before the committee as proponents of a state law because they wanted schools, athletes, parents and coaches to be better educated regarding the seriousness of traumatic brain injuries.
By making it illegal for athletes to return to games, or even practices, without proper medical clearance following a possible concussion, Padfield said, it would be easier to prevent second impact syndrome.
“It’s not the first concussion that you need to worry about,” he said. “It’s the one that shows up before your symptoms resolve from that first one.”
Before KSHSAA introduced its head injury guidelines, there was not consistency in how athletes in Kansas were treated.
“Up until this year, athletic trainers had different guidelines they followed and graded a concussion 1, 2 or 3,” Padfield said. “Now it’s just a concussion, and you treat them all the same way.”
Before the current rules were instated, he added, an athlete could be cleared within 15 minutes of an injury if concussion symptoms went away. Under the guidelines of the bill, an athlete can’t return to action without clearance from an osteopath or physician — a school’s athletic trainer can’t clear an athlete in the current form of the bill.
As more studies on concussions become available, Padfield said, head injuries are being taken more seriously.
“Even the little ones, we need to be sure they’re taken care of and that they’re resolved,” he said.
Initially excited about the bill’s progress through the Senate, Padfield said it hit what he and members of KATS and KSHSAA consider to be a bump. Some wording was altered in the bill to say swimming and diving athletes on non-school club teams were exempt from the stated head injury rules. In that current form, neither KATS nor KSHSAA backs the bill, because it would take power away from school coaches and give it to club teams. Padfield also said, as Tonganoxie’s athletic trainer, he wouldn’t be able to monitor athletes if that exemption remained in the bill.
The status of the head injury prevention act, Padfield said, remains up in the air. There is not yet a House hearing date set for the bill, and he said KATS wants to get it revamped to its original form — without the swimming and diving exemption — and sent back to the Senate. If not, KATS members hope it dies, so they can try again next year.
If Kansas passes a state law regarding sports head injuries (11 other states have done so), Padfield said, it could lead to a federal law regarding the treatment of athletes at the high school and middle school levels.
Representing KATS, Padfield was in Washington, D.C., in late February, meeting with House staffers. When the topic of federal legislation that mirrors the bill came up, he said they became more receptive to getting on board with it upon hearing the progress being made at the state level in Kansas.
“I’d like to see it at the state level first, and that’s kind of what we were hearing out there, too,” he said.
Padfield estimated that he sees between 10 to 15 concussions a year at THS on average.
He said lingering post-concussion symptoms, such as headaches or light sensitivity, are the most troubling.
“Most of those cases are kids that have had multiple concussions — two or three — throughout their high school career,” he said.
A state law that forces injured athletes to be medically cleared, he said, could help prevent such cases.
— Reporter Stephen Montemayor contributed to this story.