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Totally Scary

Those who serve as scholastic athletic coaches are familiar with the drill. Before each season, they are required by the PIAA to take and pass standardized online courses aimed at providing awareness and knowledge pertaining to concussions and sudden cardiac arrest. The material is provided via instructional videos, followed by a ten-question quiz which must be passed to obtain the certification to coach.

Passing the test is not a license to treat individuals suffering an injury; rather, its intent is for coaches to recognize and seek help more readily should such occurrences take place during games and practices. Based upon the routine nature of the testing, sometimes the tests are taken in a casual manner, perhaps thinking such occurrences are rare and only happen someplace else.

However, the results of a two-year National Registry study that included the participation of 2,149 United States High Schools revealed 26 cases of Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) had been identified. These results found 18 cases of SCA in student-athletes during game or practice action. The incidence rate for all students was 0.63 per 100,000; in student-athletes, 1.14 per 100,000; and in student-non-athletes, 0.31 per 100,000.

Other studies find the occurrences of concussion injuries were significantly higher. It is estimated high school athletes across the country sustain some degree of concussions 300,000 times per year. Per capita, the five sports with the highest percentage of concussions include rugby, ice hockey, football, lacrosse, and soccer.

Haven taken those required PIAA tests for many years, like the 65,515 NFL fans gathered on January 2 inside Cincinnati’s Paul Brown Stadium and the millions more watching the Bengals/Buffalo Bills game on TV; I watched in utter silence as medical professionals gathered on the field treating Bills defensive back Damar Hamlin. Hamlin had made what appeared to be a routine tackle of Bengals receiver Tee Higgins. Hamlin got up and then collapsed on the field.

The day after the incident, reports indicated that a blow to the chest may have thrown Hamlin’s heart’s pumping mechanism out of rhythm, disrupting blood flow to his brain and causing his collapse. The scene was chilling. As treatment was being given to players from both teams, some in tears consoled each other and shielded Hamlin from public view as he lay on the field.

The Buffalo Bills later announced he had suffered a cardiac arrest, but that but his heartbeat was restored on the field before he was taken to the hospital in critical condition.

The NFL initially announced that the resumption of the game, a key contest that could have determined the overall number-one seed in the AFC, was being delayed. It soon became evident that the players had no interest in playing any more football that night, and the game was officially suspended.

As I write this column, the eventual outcome of Hamlin’s injury is unknown. Although I was far removed, I couldn’t help but think what I, or any other coach, would do if such an incident happened. Recognizing what occurred is one thing; being able to treat the same is something altogether different.

These days in our area, high schools all have trained athletic trainers in attendance at games and practices. Many schools have defibrillators on site. But in every such instance, the knowledge and speed by which treatment can be applied to the victim can truly be a matter of life or death. That is a scary thought.

Over the years, I’ve seen some serious athletic injuries, including concussions, that have been handled properly by all involved. But what happened on that Cincinnati field should send alarm bells to all involved in overseeing youth sports. Athletic trainers are absolutely needed at every competitive contest to treat or oversee the proper care for injured athletes.

Yes, it would increase costs at a time when dollars are trying to be saved at every turn. But imagine what the costs would be if all efforts to provide the best possible safety environment are not taken.