Beginning this athletic season, Florida will become the first state in the country to require high school athletes to complete courses on concussions before they are allowed to compete in high school sports.
The courses, which coaches have been required to take for five years, are online and free. Once student athletes complete the course, they and their parents must sign a form in order to be in compliance. Those who complete the course also receive a certificate of completion that must remain on file with their coach.
The Florida High School Athletic Association says it will do random checks to make sure coaches have certificates of completion for every player on their team. If coaches are not able to provide these for every player on the team, the coach will be suspended until everyone on the team takes the course. All junior varsity and varsity athletes must complete the course, even if they participate in non-contact sports, such as golf, swimming or cross country.
Justin Harrison, the FHSAA's associate executive director for athletic services, explained the decision to make the concussion courses mandatory for student-athletes.
"The reason behind the move was student-athlete safety," said Harrison. "Overall, all concerned parties felt it was imperative to continue to educate student-athletes on concussions. ...This course was yet another way to provide the information."
The decision to require these courses was made in June, and those who play fall sports will be the first to try it out. Football may have the toughest time making sure all student-athletes complete the courses due to their large rosters. Despite the challenge of making sure all student-athletes have gone through the courses, most of the coaches think it's important that players are educated about concussions, and some have taken measures to ensure all of their players have taken the courses.
Joe Fabrizio, the football coach at St. Petersburg, has a roster of over 100 players between the junior varsity and varsity levels. He said he planned to gather his teams in the field house to view the course and take the online test.
"We're okay with it," said Fabrizio. "Anytime you can give the kids more knowledge on a subject like concussions I don't have a problem with it. We're going to show them the test (this) week and make sure it's taken care of."
At Plant High School, football coach Robert Weiner has almost 150 players between the junior varsity and varsity levels. He found out about the test soon after the rule was put in place and made sure his players all had it well before preseason practices began.
"It might be a bit of a burden but it's also important," Weiner said. "We made sure we took our time and went through it to give the kids an opportunity to really learn it. We're trying to get away from the days of being a tough guy and faking (a concussion) and trying to be a hero. The more they know the more they can deal with it honestly and communicate with us honestly."
Not everyone agrees with the requirement though. Pinellas Park coach Kenny Crawford said he didn't find out about the new concussion rule until earlier this week.
"It's the first I'm hearing about it," he said. "I don't think the kids learn a whole lot from these tests. They are so common sense. To me, it's pretty clear cut. As soon as you even think a player may have a concussion you turn it over to your medical staff. It's out of your hands. You can't risk it when it comes to concussions."
However, despite some of the disagreements, school officials expect the courses to be beneficial to everyone involved.
"I think it's good to educate everyone we can about this," said Amy Lipovetsky, Pasco County's program coordinator for athletics. "The student-athletes and the parents are going to get this information a lot. I don't think you can get it enough."