Georgia joined 43 other states on Tuesday in passing the “Return to Play Act of 2013” aimed at educating parents and coaches about the risks of youth concussions and placing restrictions on when a young athlete can return after suffering a serious head injury.
The measure requires public and private schools to provide information to parents on concussions and establish certain concussion management and return to play policies. Under the law, any young athlete who exhibits signs of a concussion must be removed from play and evaluated by a health care provider.
Athletes can only return to play only when provided medical clearance.
The bill, effective Jan. 1, 2014, was written in such a way to implement basic protections and give schools flexibility to build their own programs depending on how much funding they can commit. Head injury education lets parents make informed decisions.
John Milledge Academy football head coach J.T. Wall said the school’s current policies mirror the Return to Play Act’s requirements except providing a parental information sheet.
JMA, like many other high schools, has a certified trainer at every game, camp and on call during practices. Wall said coaches know the concussion symptoms but aren’t the right ones to clear a return to play.
“We are equipped to pull a guy out. I don’t think coaches are equipped enough to put a guy back in,” the JMA coach said. “We don’t put a guy back in unless he is cleared by a certified trainer or doctor. I think that protects the kid and the coach as well.”
While the legislation requires public recreation facilities to hand out information sheets to parents during registration, it stops short of the other requirements. Gov. Nathan Deal encouraged those recreational facilities to take the additional steps, when he signed the bill into law last week.
President of Baldwin County Recreation Department youth football Dexter Ricks said providing concussion education for coaches and parents is in the kids’ best interest.
“It’s an awesome sport, but there is some danger that comes along with those rewards. There are some signs parents should be looking for, and by providing this information through the recreation department we may be able to help even if it isn’t football-related,” Ricks said.
USA Football does a great job establishing proper form helping avoid head injury, according to Wall.
“You used to be taught to put your facemask on a guy’s numbers, and that’s just asking for a concussion,” Wall said. “To be good, you still have to be able to block and tackle. You just want to do it the right way.”
Coaches now direct players to see the ball with eyes up and not lead with the head.
“I think this is opening a lot of coaches’ eyes to change the way they coach. You can’t teach a kid to tackle like you did in the 1960s. It’s making some guys evolve as the game is evolving,” Wall said. “Our No. 1 concern now is safety. With the proper equipment and teaching, I think our kids can still play this wonderful game of football and be safe.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.