A bill headed to Governor Nikki Haley’s desk for her signature would require school districts to take more precautions at sporting events when dealing with possible concussions.
Under the legislation, an athlete removed from play due to a suspected head injury would have to be medically cleared by a trainer or physician using specific new guidelines before the athlete could continue playing.
A joint session of the state House and Senate ratified the measure Tuesday, the last step before it heads to the governor. The bill had passed unanimously in both chambers.
“A lot of the big head injuries that folks face in college or professionally are compounded by injuries they received at a younger age,” said State Rep. Peter McCoy (R-Charleston), who sponsored the bill. “It’s important for us to put an emphasis on protecting our children.”
Craig Clark, president-elect of the South Carolina Athletic Trainers’ Association, says the law is needed because there are currently no statewide standards on how to treat an athlete with a suspected head injury. “Quite frankly, there have been times when kids have played and probably shouldn’t have played,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “This is one step that can hopefully prevent occurrences like that.”
Clark is the head trainer at Furman University.
Under the bill, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) would post nationally-recognized guidelines and procedures to handle suspected concussions in student athletes. The agency would also partner with the state Department of Education to keep up with best practices in the medical community. Those guidelines would be mandatory at South Carolina High School League-sanctioned events.
A coach would be required to remove an athlete from practice or a game if they believe the athlete may have a concussion. The student could only return to play if an athletic trainer, physician, physician assistant, or nurse practitioner determines that they do not have any signs or symptoms of a concussion or brain injury.
An athlete that is suspected of having a concussion or brain injury may not return to play until receiving written medical clearance by a physician.
“We’re learning that there are more and more long-term effects to concussions,” Clark said, “Years ago, this was just, ‘Oh you got your bell rung, get back in there.’ We have since realized… that it’s no longer just having your bell rung.”
He said he believes getting clearance from a physician is critical because many smaller school districts often do not have the money to hire their own athletic trainer. “A lot of this is left up to the coaches. And a lot of the coaches are probably volunteer parents who are not even employed by the school district.
Gov. Haley is expected to sign the bill into law.