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Published: 8/13/2010

Sense on sports

The near-death of a local high school football player last month offers a grim reminder - although the incident had a happy ending - that participation in school sports involves risks that cannot always be prevented or even anticipated. But athletes, their parents, and school officials can sensibly limit those dangers.

Sudden deaths or serious injuries among young athletes often arise from previously undiagnosed illnesses. Christopher Campbell, who collapsed during a football pratice at Bedford High School in late July, was found to have a genetic heart malady that had gone undetected. A decisive response by coaches and a sheriff's deputy helped save the life of the 17-year-old athlete, as did effective treatment at Toledo Children's Hospital.

Immediate access to a defibrillator was critical when the young man's heart stopped. High school athletic departments should make such devices standard at sports practices and games, as well as ensuring that an ambulance will be available at games.

Parents ought not rely excessively on school-administered physicals to determine the fitness of their children to play sports. Such physicals usually are limited and do not include sophisticated - and sometimes expensive - tests that might identify hidden heart and other conditions that are hard to identify.

If there are medical doubts, a student's own doctor is in a better position than a school-appointed physician to examine and dispel them. Parents cannot realistically assign that responsibility to schools.

But parents have every right to expect that athletic coaches and trainers will supervise their children properly, placing their health and safety above all other concerns.

Potential concussions are not occasions for humor: "Boy, he really got his bell rung that time!" Other injuries will not be addressed adequately with the injunction, "Just walk it off."

Holding practices during the hottest hours of a summer day does not build character. Nor does denying water or other fluids to young athletes when they are thirsty.

Fortunately, most coaches have abandoned such obsolete notions of hairy-chested manliness, willingly or otherwise. The State of Ohio requires coaches to know cardiopulmonary resuscitation, first aid, and methods of preventing sports injuries.

Most coaches schedule practice hours to avoid excessive heat and humidity, provide shade or hold practice indoors when the sun is brutal, and allow frequent breaks. Such steps might seem obvious to prevent heat stroke, but they often were slow in coming.

And opportunities for potential backsliding remain. So-called captain's practices, ostensibly voluntary sessions run by student athletes and monitored by coaches, cannot become excuses for getting around limits on official practices. Otherwise, they invite injuries and can expose schools to liability and coaches to penalties.

Participating in athletic competition can be an essential element of a student's education. It also can be a lot of fun. But it never should become a matter of life and death, and schools and athletes' families have an equal interest in doing what they reasonably can to make sure it does not.



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