LANSING - Lawmakers are jumping into the game against concussions by pushing for treatment guidelines for public school athletes.
A bill by Rep. Thomas Hooker, R-Byron Center, would require districts to develop guidelines and a fact sheet to better inform athletes, coaches and parents about the risks of head injuries.
The Michigan High School Athletic Association already has similar rules in place that apply to both public and private schools.
The significant evolution of football helmets is easy to see in this photo. A bill pending in the Michigan Legislature would require school districts to develop guidelines and treatment protocols for concussions. (Journal file photo)
Under Hooker's legislation, athletes who suffer a head injury during a competition, practice or tryout must be removed from the activity until they receive medical clearance.
While there would be no penalty for noncompliance with the guidelines, Hooker said it would provide a pattern for schools to follow.
Hooker said the bill "will provide a process of determining what a concussion is. It's a good thing to have a standard of care, a standard of not putting an athlete at risk."
According to Hooker, the proposal is based on an outline developed by the National Football League, which wants similar legislation across the country.
"The goal is to make sure our legislation in the state models all the other states," Hooker said. "We are trying to have some kind of uniformity in that way."
Hooker said that guidelines would bolster existing rules of the MHSAA.
John Johnson, the MHSAA's communication director, said that the organization's rules can provide a template for statewide legislation
Those rules, adopted last year, require students to be removed from competitions after an apparent head injury, allowing reentry only after medical clearance.
However, MHSAA imposes penalties on schools that don't comply.
After a first violation, schools are placed on a two-year probation in the sport where the concussion occurred. If a school commits another violation during that probationary period, it's banned from MHSAA tournaments in that sport for that year.
After almost a full year of implementation, no schools have been cited for a violation.
"It speaks volumes to the attention that our schools are giving concussions," Johnson said.
Sometimes concussions aren't noticed initially.
Steve Babbitt, athletic director at Blissfield Community Schools, said the worst such case in the district happened after a student suffered a mild concussion that went undetected.
Babbitt said that only after the athlete was hit again was a concussion diagnosed, forcing the player to miss a longer period of time than if the first concussion has been promptly spotted.
Athletes who reenter an activity before a concussion heals risk another concussion that may cause long-term damage or even death, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The agency estimates concussions in 5-to-18-year olds cause 135,000 emergency room visits annually.
Both Hooker's bill and MHSAA's rules also aim at educating parents in hopes of helping them spot concussions.
Johnson said parents are pivotal in the safety of injured athletes because symptoms can manifest themselves after an incident.
"Everybody thinks that a concussion is a knock-down, laid-out-on-the-field kind of thing, and it isn't," Johnson said. "That's why it's important that all parties involved are up to speed and know what to look for."
Blissfield's Babbitt said that beyond parents and coaches, trainers are key in concussion treatment. Babbitt said that his trainer has educated coaches on what to look for and signs of symptoms.
According to Babbitt, guidelines in dealing with concussions benefit trainers since they allow diagnosis without backlash from players or coaches.
"They take the pressure off of trainers," Babbitt said. "It gives them guidelines to follow and it prevents them from being the bad guy."
While trainers are an effective tool in dealing with concussions, many schools have only one trainer for the entire athletic department.
The MHSAA's Johnson said that ideally schools would have more trainers to deal with concussions.
"In a perfect world there would be a trainer at every event," Johnson said. "The reality is that it's not possible. Schools don't have the budget."
Without additionally funding, schools will have to rely on guidelines and better education.
"We are just trying to do our best to ensure kids are safe," Hooker said.
Co-sponsors include Reps. Ken Yonker, R-Caledonia; Dave Agema, R-Grandville; Barb Byrum, D-Onondaga; and Bruce Rendon, R-Lake City.
The bill is pending in the House Education Committee.