District Reviewing Non-Sanctioned Events After Injury

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The risk management team at Lake County (Fla.) Schools is reviewing current policy governing unsanctioned activity on area campuses following a serious injury suffered during a football game not sponsored by or affiliated with the district’s athletic program.

According to the Daily Commercial in Leesburg, the review comes after a local student-athlete suffered a skull fracture that required surgery during a 7-on-7 football game at Mount Dora High School. The game was considered an unsanctioned event — even though both teams were coached by district employees, who are also head coaches at their schools — because the sport is not regulated by the Florida High School Athletic Association.

Lake Minneola freshman defensive back Jonah Zerblas reportedly tripped during a scrimmage game on March 28 against Mount Dora and hit his head on an opposing player's knee. According to reports, the skull fracture caused "life-threatening swelling" and a blood clot on his brain. When he suffered the injury, Zerblas was not wearing protective headgear, according to Lake Minneola football coach Walter Banks. Even though the use of headgear is not mandatory at these minimal-contact events, it was available at the field.

Lake County Schools athletic director Don Hogan said the district is still investigating the circumstances around the injury. The district does not sponsor or sanction 7-on-7 football leagues. As a result, Hogan said it does not have a written policy covering the use of protective headgear.

Zerblas' injury occurred during one of numerous non-sanctioned activities that are held each year on district property. Hogan said the district receives inquiries from countless organizations every year, all of which must complete the necessary paperwork and fulfill all requirements mandated by established policy, including providing proof of insurance.

"Any outside group can rent Lake County facilities if they are available," district communications officer Sherri Owens stated in an email that. "Outside groups are required to complete a facility use agreement with the district. They are also required to provide proof of insurance and pay facility rental fees. School-affiliated or district-affiliated teams must coordinate with an assistant principal at the school(s) to schedule use of the facilities."

“We approve requests from outside organizations, including track and field, Pop Warner (football), AAU basketball, Special Olympics, baton twirlers, scouting groups, theater groups and churches, to name a few,” said Hogan.

Additionally, he said college student-athletes who live in the area and wish to use district facilities when they return home from college are required to go through the same approval process as teams and organizations not affiliated with the district. Student-athletes participating in FHSAA-sanctioned sports are required to show proof of insurance, as are organizers of non-sanctioned events.

"If they do not already have insurance," Hogan told the Daily Commercial, "parents can purchase student accident insurance through School Insurance of Florida. Plus, all FHSAA participating districts are required to carry a catastrophic student accident policy."

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