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New report ranks states on preparedness to handle school sports emergencies

Posted at 4:01 PM, Aug 24, 2018

In just the past two days, two young athletes have been rushed to the hospital during sports practice. 

Just outside of Dallas, a 13-year-old student collapsed at football practice and later died. In Pennsylvania, a teen remains in coma after suffering a serious head injury.  

The NOW’s investigative reporter Jace Larson obtained a new state-by-state ranking, showing how well states do at preventing and reducing the number of children who have a sudden emergency, while playing middle and high school sports.

Samantha Scarneo headed up the study, which ranks how well states protect youth athletes. The University of Connecticut's Korey Stringer Institute looked at whether states or lawmakers mandate policies for athletes, who get suddenly sick.

"We don't have a single state who has hit 100 percent for sport safety, health and safety policies," says Scarneo.

New Jersey and North Carolina rank the highest. California and Colorado are among the lowest-ranking states.

The list isn't to say that high schools in individual states don't have their own policies, but lower rankings indicate it's not something required statewide.

"We do have evidence to support that even schools are not putting this into place," Scarneo says.

90 percent of teen athletes get suddenly sick due to one of these four conditions:

  • Cardiac arrest  
  • Heat stroke
  • Sudden head injury
  • Having the "sickle cell" trait, a condition usually identified at birth that can be aggravated with excessive physical activity later in life

Having policies to watch for a treat these conditions is key, Scarneo says. New Jersey now regulates practices and conditioning during the off-season. And high schools must have cold baths available in an emergency.

"Conditional heat stroke is 100 percent survivable with proper condition care, and that's with cold water emersion,” Scarneo says. “You get somebody in cold water emersion bath fast, you can reduce the body temperature relatively quickly."

Parents and guardians of young athletes should also be proactive. Ask your school questions regarding their policies for sudden sickness and training for coaches in the event of an emergency.

Don't forget that you can also go to your state high school athletic association to get answers and express your opinion.