Opinion

NC rates high, but needs to keep improving on student athletes’ safety

There have been too many tragedies associated with high school sports, the result of over-exertion on the part of athletes in practice or injuries on the field. It may be true that not all accidental deaths can be prevented, but at least there is more awareness of what to do to prevent injury and death.

It wasn’t that long ago, after all, that some coaches prided themselves on grueling practices designed to push players to their physical limits and beyond. But we know now that any practice should stop short of limits. In too many cases, young men in apparently good health have died on the practice football field from heat stroke or brain injuries. Parents left to grieve forever have pushed, and successfully so, to improve both equipment and the best practices for high school athletics.

But a high school sports study from the Korey Stringer Institute shows that too many states are, incredible as it seems, not putting into practice the safety measures they know will prevent tragedy.

These measures are simple enough, and include letting players get acclimated to hot weather when practice for football season begins – shortening practices, not staying outside for long periods of time at first. And then there is hydration, providing plenty of water and insisting that the kids drink it throughout practice.

Coaches and trainers also need to be schooled in recognizing the signs of heat stroke or other traumas, and taught how to respond to them early on. That kind of response includes cooling a person down and getting them to a hospital quickly.

It is not, in any universe, hard to do these things, and those who supervise high schools, from principals on down to coaches, must be held to strict account for seeing to it that these practices are followed. Any coach who doesn’t play by the safety rules should be dismissed immediately. Lives are at stake.

This study’s findings are thus especially disturbing. The measures listed above aren’t expensive, or burdensome. They are not complicated. There is no excuse – no excuse – for not implementing them immediately. Yesterday. No questions asked.

But there is a bit of good news here, at least close to home. North Carolina in this survey was shown to be the state with the “most comprehensive” health and safety policies, rated at 79 percent. It should be 100 percent, but it shows that the state’s high schools and their supervisory organizations are doing good work in raising awareness about this issue and following up with action.

Kids want to play sports. And they’re not always the best monitors of their own bodies when it comes to taking in enough water and pacing themselves on the practice field. They’re kids, after all. And that’s true despite all the rhetoric about how sports help them to grow up, to learn valuable life lessons.

Maybe so. But they’re still just kids. And adults charged with their care have to be responsible. This study should be an alarm for many states where the safety job isn’t getting done, and a reminder in North Carolina to see that all schools measure up, while recognizing the state is doing pretty well indeed.

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