Health panel aims rule at concussions
Bylaw would require youth sports training
Amid heightened awareness about concussions that prompted new state rules for secondary schools, Ashland health officials are now hoping to focus attention on head injuries in youth sports.
The Ashland Board of Health is drafting a bylaw that would require concussion awareness training for youth teams using town-owned fields. The proposal is slated to go before Town Meeting this spring.
“It’s about building awareness for the parents, coaches, and players,’’ said Leslie Githens, the board’s chairwoman. “We think we’ll do something similar to what the schools have done.’’
Under a state law passed in 2010, middle and high schools are required to meet wide-ranging regulations addressing head injuries.
The rules call for medical clearance before a student who has suffered a concussion can return to action; mandatory training on concussion prevention and awareness for students, parents, and coaches; and new record-keeping requirements for head injuries.
Ashland’s bylaw would not exactly mirror the state law, said Githens, but would try to align youth sports more closely with the school district’s programs.
The board will continue working on the measure’s language at its meeting Tuesday at 7 p.m. in Ashland Town Hall.
The Board of Health has been discussing concussions for a couple of years, said Githens, since sports-related head injuries have become a hot topic.
Research and some high-profile cases have shone a light on how serious head injuries - especially repeated ones - can be.
While the state law targets older students, some in youth sports say they have been talking about preventing and properly treating concussions for several years.
The Massachusetts Youth Soccer Association, which oversees about 470 local soccer organizations, has been working on ways to better address head injuries, said Michael Singleton, the group’s executive director.
Already, players can’t return to the field after suffering concussions until they have a doctor’s clearance, he said.
In addition, a soccer association committee is discussing concussion education for parents, said Singleton. Since last year, coaches have been required to receive concussion education when they become licensed by US Soccer, he said.
Singleton said 70 to 80 percent of youth soccer coaches are licensed, and he’d like to see all licensed in the near future. “I am working on it very, very hard,’’ he said. “There’s a push back because you face something where coach licensure costs money.’’
He said it’s critical that youth sports do as much as possible to educate everyone about concussions, particularly since so much of a player’s athletic life is spent in youth sports.
In soccer, a child might start at age 5 or 6 and then keep playing youth soccer during high school, even if they play on the school’s team, to get extra seasons, he said.
The Ashland Board of Health wants to make sure coaches and parents get training on concussions, but they still have to decide what to do about players. Githens said the youngest players wouldn’t be required to get training, but it’s still a question exactly when to start educating a child on head injuries.
The board would like to include some kind of return-to-play protocols in its bylaw, said Githens, but members haven’t finalized that language yet. Schools rely on a team of professionals, including school nurses, to help determine when a child can return to the classroom and practice field, but local youth organizations don’t have the same resources, so the town would have to adjust accordingly, she said.
Vin Hanrahan, president of the Hopkinton-Ashland Youth Football and Cheerleading Association, said his group’s coaches did concussion training last year for the first time, and the plan is to offer it annually.
Asked about Ashland’s proposal, he said: “Whatever helps make sure kids are safe and healthy is always a good thing.’’