Oklahoma children participating in youth sports are suffering injuries that could be prevented with more trainers and better-educated coaches, athletic experts said Tuesday at the Capitol Tuesday.
Rep. Dan Kirby, R-Tulsa, held an interim study that looked into sports-related injuries in Oklahoma youth programs.
Many who testified said thousands of injuries that sideline young players could have been prevented if caught earlier.
“I want my kid to at least have somebody that recognized, somebody that knows CPR, recognized if it's too hot, recognized if they are having cardiac arrest or a concussion,” said Kirby. “Even a minimal layer of education is better than nothing.”
Athletic trainers, professors and representatives of the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association all agreed there is a lack of education among coaches and staff on how to handle specific injuries and situations.
“First of all, what we want is education,” said Ed Sheakley, executive director of the OSSAA, which governs sports for most of Oklahoma's public schools.
Sheakley said the first step in preventing many injuries, and in some cases even deaths, is educating coaches.
“They're going to be the first responders probably nine times out of 10,” he said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children involved in youth sports are injured to the point of requiring a trip to the emergency room 1.35 million times annually, or roughly every 25 seconds.
Ron Walker, a clinical assistant professor at the University of Tulsa, said many of those visits can be prevented by hiring an athletic trainer. Walker said that nationally just shy of 70 percent of public schools have a trainer on staff. In Oklahoma it is less than 20 percent.
Walker gave as an example a high school basketball player who died from an asthma attack. He said her death might have been prevented had her coach been properly trained or if an athletic trainer were present.
Walker and other experts who testified, said the argument that trainers are not in the budget is not an excuse. He argued that trainers can be hired on a part-time basis, as part-time teachers and trainers, or even be shared between two districts.
Another aspect discussed was the lack of emergency plan requirements for schools with athletic programs.
On July 1, the OSSAA handed down a list of requirements and recommendations dealing with concussion. However, it is up to the school superintendents to see that they are enforced.
Also, not all schools in the state participating in youth sports are OSSAA members.
Kirby, who introduced but held back legislation last session dealing with heat-related illness in youth sports, said that there is not a strong enough enforcement mechanism to make sure those guidelines are met.
“So, if there's no oversight, there's no sign-off, or superintendents to monitor, then it may or may not happen,” said Kirby.
Kirby added that not only will he reintroduce his bill next year, he plans to strengthen it by applying it to organizations that participate in youth sports outside of schools, such as churches.