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Study gives N.H. poor score on policies to ensure athletes’ safety in high schools



Monitor staff
Thursday, August 10, 2017

New Hampshire was among the 10 worst states in a national ranking of policies to prevent death and catastrophic injury among high school athletes, partly because many programs, equipment and training are not required statewide.

The ranking, released this week by the Korey Stringer Institute at the University of Connecticut, puts New Hampshire 44th out of the 50 states and the District of Colombia.

It scored 36 percent of total possible points. The best-scoring state was North Carolina, with 79 percent. Massachusetts had 67 percent, Maine 47 percent and Vermont 42 percent. California, with 26 percent, and Colorado with 23 percent were at the bottom of the list.

The ranking system, a product of several years of discussions with medical and school sports groups, is designed to draw public attention to the issue, said report co-author Samantha Scarneo.

“We have parents call us that their son or daughter passed away from heat stroke, which is 100 percent survivable with proper care ... or suffered serious injury. We wanted to do something so the parents could know how safe their state is, and how they could continue to fight the good fight for making their high school sports safer,” said Scarneo, a UNH graduate who is director of sports safety for the institute and a Ph.D. candidate at UConn.

The study gives each state a point score based on whether policies exist in 56 areas dealing with the main causes of sports-related death and serious injury – cardiac arrest, heat stroke, traumatic head injuries and sickle-cell trait status – as well as certain emergency care practices. The rulings are based on publicly available information, from websites or legislation.

The National Federation of State High School Associations criticized the ranking Tuesday.

“A review of state association websites, such as the one employed by KSI, is an incomplete measurement of the efforts employed by states to assist their member schools with heat, heart and head issues,” the federation said in a statement. “Providing more research data, as well as funds to enact more prevention programs, would be much more useful than giving grades to these associations.”

“The full picture is much more positive,” it continued. “In fact, the state high school associations, and their respective sports medicine committees, post guidelines, speak at seminars, give warnings and alerts, and otherwise promote the health and well-being of young people.”

Scarneo said the institute contacted officials with state student-athlete organizations about the ranking before it came out. According to William Adams, lead author of the report, Salem High School athletic trainer Sean Cox, who is on the sports medicine advisory committee for the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association, emailed response on May 26, saying, “The info on NH Health & Safety Policies from the research looks accurate to me.”

A major factor in scores was the institute’s requirement that graded actions, such as having a certified trainer available at all practices involving collisions, or having cold water immersion tubs for warm-weather practices, are mandatory rather than just recommended.

“We looked for words such as ‘required’ or ‘mandated’ in order to say that the state had that sort of policy,” Scarneo said.

So even though some safety and health procedures may be commonly used at high school games and practices, they would not score points on the Korey Stringer Institute ranking unless they were required statewide by law or the state athletic association.

For example, New Hampshire received no points on seven measures of acclimating players to heat, including actions like separating two-a-day practices by at least three hours. But the lack of points does not mean schools do not follow those actions; it just means no regulation or law mandates them.

The Korey Stringer Institute describes itself as a center for studying health and safety issues for athletes and the physically active, consulting with professional athletic associations and the military, among others.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)