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Legislation could fill the bill for athletes' safety

BY NICK WILLIAMS
Tribune staff

Published:   |   Updated: July 9, 2013 at 06:34 AM

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TAMPA - When Rays pitcher Alex Cobb took a 105 mph line drive to the head on June 15, David Villarreal, the trauma director at Bayonet Point Regional Medical Center in Hudson, reflected on the seriousness of concussions, especially among today's youth.

"When I saw the news about Alex Cobb being hit it reminded me of kids playing different sports ... football, basketball and soccer ... and the minor head injuries they might have and consequences after, like memory (loss) and school performance," he said.

According to a 2010 injury surveillance system survey conducted by the National Federation of State High School Associations, an estimated 140,000-plus high school athletes across the U.S suffer a concussion each year.

The NFHS is the nation's leader in rules and standards for the 50 state high school associations, including Florida.

The issue has caught the attention of Congress, where proposed legislation is actively promoting concussion treatment options and equipment regulations in youth sports.

The Youth Sports Concussions Act, sponsored by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-West Virginia, and Sen. Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, is designed to improve national quality standards for injury-prevention sports equipment used by millions of youths across the country. If passed, it will provide guidelines to reduce injury risk based on results of a National Academies of Science report focusing on concussions in youth sports.

The bill, which is being supported by the NFHS, as well as the NCAA, NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball, would direct the Consumer Product Safety Commission to create new standards and encourage the Federal Trade Commission to penalize manufacturers that make protective sports gear for deceptive marketing.

The results of the NAS report are required to be published by the end of January 2014.

Tim Kocher, a certified athletic trainer at Wharton High School, is also a clinical constructor for the University of South Florida Athletic Education Training Program. He said the support of the bill by the NFHS is a step in the right direction and the legislation could further prevent the severity of injuries.

Jennifer Burchill, Hillsborough County Public Schools assistant athletic director, said improving the safety of student-athletes is a priority for the school district, and legislation comparable to the Youth Sports Concussions Act would certainly help.

Each year, the district's athletic department has preventative sports equipment such as pads and helmets reconditioned. Equipment that no longer meets safety standards is discharged.

Although there is a nationwide push for safer equipment, Kocher said helmets can't prevent concussions.

"A lot of misconceptions on equipment is parents think helmets can prevent concussions and manufacturers try to tell people that, but it's totally untrue," he said. "It can't prevent a concussion. The brain still moves inside the head because it's surrounded by fluid. It still impacts the side of the skull."

Villarreal agreed.

"Damage will be less, but it can still happen," he said.

Cobb, who returned to the mound Friday for the first time since suffering the concussion, still deals with symptoms of vertigo, a sensation of motion either of the person or the environment.

"The aggravating thing is I can feel good most of the day and once it gets to a couple positions I put my head in, it sets back a little bit," Cobb said June 30 at Tropicana Field. "There's no regression, it's just a reminder that I still have some fluid built up and my equilibrium is off a little bit."

Upon diagnosis, Villarreal said medical professionals determined the healing process can take six months to a year.

"The problem is if they have another concussion, the consequences can be dramatic," he said.

Villarreal said parents need to be aware of the effects of head trauma suffered during sports and must seek medical advice if it occurs.

"Twenty years ago we didn't have enough evidence," Villarreal said. "Now we are seeing the consequences."

nwilliams@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7305

Twitter: @NickWilliamsTBO

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