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Maryland Gazette
T.C. CAMERON tcameron@capgaznews.com

BALTIMORE - The Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association became the first state-sanctioned high school athletic board in the country to endorse USA Football's Heads Up football safety program.

Citing a comprehensive approach to player safety and advancing tackling techniques to compliment existing safety protocols, the MPSSAA announced the partnership with the Indianapolis-based advocacy group Monday at the state's education headquarters.

The alliance give coaches and administrators at 187 schools offering football in 24 counties access to safety protocols on concussions and education on heat and hydration, equipment fitting and proper tackling techniques. The primary highlights of the Heads Up program include a designated player safety coach at each school to teach coaches and players proper hitting and tackling techniques and equipment fitting.

MPSSAA Executive Director Ned Sparks said consensus among coaches, players, administrators and medical professionals drove the decision.

"We all concluded we needed to do everything possible to reduce the risk, to make it as safe as we can possibly make it, for the players especially," Sparks said. "We began to investigate the Heads Up program ... we looked at their endorsements ... we realized what (USA Football) was doing was a very positive program to help reduce injuries and the nature of risk."

The player safety coach at each school will be instructed by a master instructor from USA Football.

"The player safety coach will communicate with the coaching staff and the players, but is the liaison to the community," Sparks said. "This coach is a valuable source because parents can identify with a person at the school and looking out for the best interests."

In the 1990s, tackling moprhed into a face-into-chest technique to combat cervical spine injuries and led to players launching upward and striking with the crown of the helmet. The Heads Up program endorses an ascending-blow, shoulder-strike technique with the tackler's head up and to the side of the player being tackled.

"I don't know if this is necessarily the critical juncture (for football), because as a brain injury specialist who's dealt with various causes of brain injury over the years, we're always looking to identify how to reduce the problem," said Dr. Gerry Gioia, chief of pediatric neuropsychology at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. "This is a solution that we're trying to put in place to reduce that exposure. We have a better understanding of brain science, and understanding what these kinds of hits mean (to the brain) when you take that blow. I can tell you 10 to 15 years ago we didn't know anything about this."

The safety and training program costs $25 per coach and, as part of the endorsement, the MPSSAA will pay for all coaches who are paid through the school system they represent. County systems can choose to pay for volunteer coaches. Sparks said while the MPSSAA does not have the power to to make the program mandatory, he hopes for between 50 and 60 percent participation in the first year.

Greg LeGrand, Anne Arundel County's athletic coordinator, said through an email statement the county will pay registration fees for county coaches not paid through the county schools.

"We anticipate paying for about 50 volunteer coaches each year," LeGrand said.

Currently, the county requires all coaches take a Care and Prevention of Athletics Injuries course and have valid CPR with AED training. LeGrand says coaches also are required to take a refresher course every five years, the only county in the state to require such a refresher class. Coaches must take the National Federation of High School Association's Concussion Awareness course, and all 12 county schools offered an annual Youth Injury Prevention Workshop through Anne Arundel Medical Center.

Heads Up was a pilot program in 2013, offered to 35 schools in 10 states, including all 25 schools in Fairfax (Va.) County. This is the first year high schools from every state are eligible to join after almost 2,800 youth leagues participated in the program last year.

"It's a first for a state to embrace this, and other states are watching," Hallenbeck said. "Our friends at the National State High School association is watching closely how this is going to unfold ... We're excited to be working closely with the coaches across this state, and make sure we put in place what we believe is the most comprehensive approach to a better, safer game."

 

Ned Sparks, executive director of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, announces the endorsement of USA Football's Heads Up program Monday at the Maryland State Department of Education.
Ned Sparks, executive director of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, announces the endorsement of USA Football's Heads Up program Monday at the Maryland State Department of Education.
Dr. Gerald Gioia speaks about the need for comprehensive training to make high school football safer.
Dr. Gerald Gioia speaks about the need for comprehensive training to make high school football safer.

 

May 6, 2014

 

 
 

 

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