Head injuries have risen to the forefront of high school athletics in recent years.
Area coaches, athletic directors and officials have become more informed about concussions in an effort to focus on the safety of athletes.
Football is the primary sport where players are prone to concussions. Coach Justin Buttermore, who has been at Tri-Valley for 10 years, is confident the new standards are beneficial to the health of all athletes.
“There wasn’t much information on concussions when I started coaching years ago, but now you know people can have real problems, especially with multiple concussions,” he said. “It’s a blurred line because (concussions are) tough to diagnose, but you don’t want to place a player in harm’s way.”
The Ohio High School Athletic Association has taken steps to promote awareness, requiring coaches, trainers and officials to take online courses through the National Federation of High Schools.
Sheridan Athletic Director Jay Hickman said his staff has followed the guidelines. He also has met with parents to provide an explanation of the new policies.
“The state expectation is suddenly there, and it’s for all the right reasons,” Hickman said. “We have taken initiative with our coaches to take the classes, and we meet with parents before each season to hand out paperwork from the state. The biggest positive is the awareness.”
Ryan Barks, who has coached high school soccer in the area for 14 years, essentially is his team’s trainer at West Muskingum.
Barks has seen his share of concussions in recent years, but being certified in health and physical education has benefited him when a player suffers the injury.
He also is taking measures with a local concussion clinic to prevent players from returning too quickly.
“We are sending players over for pre-testing to set their baseline and after an incident; we know where they are,” he said.
Sheridan is another place where trainers are not always available. Hickman noted doctors Larry Cowan and Shelby Raiser are on the sidelines for football games on Friday nights, but the coaching staffs understand what’s expected when medical personnel is not on site.
“Our coaches are more aware through sports med training, literature and magazines,” he said. “We trust the medical professionals. They give our coaches such good information when players come back and make the steps of recovery easier.
“You can tell when a kid has suffered head-type trauma. We tell our coaches to trust your gut,” he added.
Having a full-time trainer like Dave Peadon has eased the load on the Tri-Valley athletic staff. Buttermore is thankful for Peadon and area doctors who have met with parents to discuss the effects of head injuries.
We are fortunate to have a full-time trainer, but teams that don’t have trainers, coaches and officials are more liable,” Buttermore said. “They may sit a kid who does not have a concussion, but as a coach, you have to live with that decision because the focus is on safety.”
Gene Bess has prepared area officials for those situations.
He has been an official for several sports, including football and basketball, for 30 years and spends time in every class talking about concussions.
Bess has emphasized the importance of completing the online class because umpires will not be able to work postseason baseball or softball games without a certificate of completion.
“Site managers will make sure you have your certificate,” Bess said. “We tell (our classes) to check with the site manager to see if a trainer will be available. If one is not, we’re telling (umpires and officials) when in doubt sit (the kids) out. We’re not doctors so we want to err on the side of caution.”
Bess noted officials are worried about liability issues.
“We all have (expressed our concerns), but (OHSAA) has told us to follow the guidelines they set forth,” Bess said.
However, those issues were not as much as a concern for coaches. Barks said he still has to wait on a doctor to clear his players to return.
“I’m not really worried about the liability. If you identify the symptoms, then you err on the side of caution,” Barks said.
“This may put some coaches on the fence, but even if they suffer a slight (concussion) they still can’t play until they present a doctor’s notice.”
Buttermore echoed a similar sentiment about injuries in general.
“There are not any more increased liability concerns than before,” he said. “There’s always a concern when a kid gets hurt. You think about the potential risk of any injury and a kid getting re-injured.”
Coaches understand players want to play, but the long-term effects overshadow taking an unnecessary risk.
“We weren’t aware of long-term damage when I played or first started coaching, but we know the signs and symptoms now,” Barks said. “We also understand a kid’s competitive nature, but at the end of the day we don’t want to see anyone hurt.”