Bill Would Mandate Independent Evaluation of Head Injuries in High School Collision Sports

Jan 24, 2017

There’s another effort underway at the statehouse to make sure student athletes in collision sports get proper evaluation in the event of a head injury.  

A bill to require a health care professional at every high school varsity football, soccer, or wrestling match got its first hearing of the year at the capitol today.   

At the end of the night he couldn't remember the game

Lawmakers are trying again to address the problem of student athletes going back into games instead of being sidelined after a head injury or possible concussion.

Representative Timi Brown-Powers, a Democrat from Waterloo, has first-hand experience with the issue.

"I am a hockey mom and I am very familiar with coaches sending those athletes back out,” Brown-Powers said, “Those athletes fighting and saying I'm  fine, and I'm going to go back out, and playing when they shouldn't be playing."

Rep. Timi Brown-Powers (D-Waterloo)
Credit Joyce Russell/IPR

Brown-Powers recalls when her son was hurt but stayed in the game.   She said at the end of the night he couldn’t remember the game.

“He had told the coach he was fine, but there wasn't anyone there to make the assessment,” Brown-Powers said, “that could have questioned him, looked at his pupils, and probably sat him for the rest of the game.”

A bill filed last year would have required an athletic trainer at all varsity collision sports events.  But some education groups expressed concern about cost and the availability of trainers with games going on all over urban and rural Iowa.  

This year’s bill would allow more health care professionals to meet the requirements of the legislation.

A rural schools group opposes the bill, in addition to an organization representing Christian schools.

It's hard to take the focus off the game and really assess the kid

Interested parties crowded a committee room to weigh in on the bill.

Clint Lutterman is a physical therapist from Perry who provides sideline coverage for high school sports.

Lutterman thinks someone other than a coach should be making the call about whether an athlete should be sidelined.  

"It’s hard to take the focus off of the game and really assess the kid and say, 'No you can’t go in,'" Lutterman said. "They don’t have the time or the ability to say, 'No, you know what, you really should just sit out,' when the game’s on the line."

Doug Struyk with the Athletic Trainers of Iowa said there is currently a class-action lawsuit pending against the NCAA regarding concussions in college athletes.

He said secondary school could also end up in court.

“The schools in failing to have people in  place to make this diagnosis are opening  themselves up to liability,” Struyk said.

Rep. Megan Jones (R- Sioux Rapids) chairs the three-member panel managing the bill. 

She’s optimistic backers can address concerns and get the bill passed this year.

"We have had far too many instances where kids have been left on the field after they had a head injury, and it is up to us to figure out how to address that issue," she said. "So this is the starting point."