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Measure Stems from Assembly Education Panel Hearing on Impact of Concussions & Head Injuries on Student Athletes

(TRENTON) — Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Patrick J. Diegnan, Jr., Craig J. Coughlin, Thomas P. Giblin and Mila M. Jasey to create an awareness program on the prevention, risk and treatment of sports-related brain injuries received final legislative approval Monday in the General Assembly.

The bill, which had been returned to the Assembly for final concurrence on amendments, passed by a vote of 78-0.

“Head injuries are always traumatic, doubly so when they affect the life of a young athlete,” said Diegnan (D-Middlesex), chairman of the Assembly education panel. “With the competitive, high impact nature of high school sports continuing to intensify, we owe it to these student athletes to look not just at the effects of these injuries, but to take an active role in their diagnosis and prevention.”

The bill (A-2743) would require the state Department of Education (DOE) to develop an interscholastic athletic head injury safety training program, concerning the prevention, risk and treatment of sports related concussions and other brain injuries among student athletes. The program would need to be completed by a school physician, a person who coaches an interscholastic sport and an athletic trainer.

“Concussions in sports are a lot more common — and a lot more life-threatening — than students, parents and coaches realize,” said Coughlin (D-Middlesex). “By creating an awareness campaign with a set policy for treating these injuries, we will undoubtedly help save lives.”

The program also would create a brain injury fact sheet — to be distributed annually to student-athletes, parents, coaches and athletic trainers — which would provide information concerning the prevention, symptoms and dangers of concussions and other traumatic brain injuries and would contain information on the appropriate amount of time to delay a student’s return to physical activity after sustaining such injury.

The program also would require school districts develop a written policy concerning the prevention and treatment of sports related concussions and other brain injuries to be used when it is suspected that a student athlete has sustained such an injury. To help school districts in developing these policies, the state DOE would be required to create a model policy for grades K-12 by no later than March 31, 2011.

“Because of the desire to win and the machismo of youth, many seriously injure players insist on getting back in the game,” said Giblin (D-Essex). “Mandating — by law — that students who receive head injuries during a sports game must be removed from play until cleared by a doctor, will keep them from doing irreparable harm to themselves in an effort to ‘look tough.'”

Additionally, the bill would require that any student athlete who sustains or is suspected of sustaining such an injury during practice or play be immediately removed from the game or practice. The student would not be able to participate in any further sports activity until evaluated by a physician trained in the evaluation and management of concussions and given written permission to return to physical activity.

“These student athletes have their whole lives ahead of them,” said Jasey (D-Essex), a member of the education panel. “We have a responsibility to ensure that they do not jeopardize their futures and their continued health by attempting to stay in the game for ‘one more play’ after receiving a head injury.”

Finally, under the bill, each person licensed as an athletic trainer, as a condition of license renewal, would have to complete 24 hours of continuing education credits, which include specific instruction on concussions and head injuries.

“When it comes to head injuries, even a small delay in treatment can mean the difference between life and death,” said Diegnan. “If improving the awareness of the serious nature of these types of head injuries helps even one athlete seek medical help instead of trying to return to the game, our efforts will have been worthwhile.”