Head injury training urged for coaches

March 30, 2009 5:55:56 PM PDT
A state lawmaker is trying to protect student athletes across California from the often undiagnosed effects of head trauma. It is an issue getting new attention after the recent skiing death of actress Natasha Richardson.

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With so many California students involved in sports, one state lawmaker worries about their potential for head trauma. She is proposing that high school coaches be trained to recognize the signs of brain injury and get help for it.

Her research on football found that head injuries led to at least 51 deaths or critically-injured U.S. high school and youth football players from 1997 to 2007. A handful of those cases occured in the corridor between San Joaquin County and the Bay Area alone.

"We need to train coaches to be better able to recognize the symptoms of a concussion or serious injury. They can make all the difference in saving a student's life," says Hayward Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi.

The recent death of actress Natasha Richardson put the spotlight on sports-related brain injury. She died after a fall while skiing.

Doctors say kids need extra attention because repeated concussions can lead to consequences later on in life.

Amer Khan, a doctor at the Sutter Neuroscience Institute, listed some of those consequences such as, "Losing IQ points, not being able to pay attention, having headaches for a long period of time and not being able to perform cognitively."

Some members of one local community college team understand the benefits the extra training coaches would have on head injuries. But, they worry about losing playing time, especially if a college scholarship or professional career is on the line.

"Somebody could come out one day saying they have a headache, and that might cause them to bench them when they really just have a headache. So, you might end up putting your best player on the bench being extra cautious," said former high school athlete Cecil Richardson.

If the proposal passes at least 25,000 high school coaches in California will have to take the class and pay for it themselves, starting next year. The proposal will be heard in the Assembly Education Committee on Wednesday.

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