Three Athlete Safety Bills Await Passage in New Jersey

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Lawmakers in New Jersey are close to passing a bill package that will go a long way toward improving safety for high school student-athletes.

The three-bill package, which awaits action in the Assembly after passing the Senate, includes laws that require emergency plans for handling serious injuries; another updates guidelines for students recovering from concussions; the third expands the use of new rules for playing and practices in very hot weather.

“Very important bill package, something we’ve been proud to work on with Sen. Diegnan for almost two years now,” Eric Orlando, a lobbyist who represents the Athletic Trainers’ Society of New Jersey, to New Jersey 101.5. “Something that is long overdue in the aspect of heat.” 

David Csillan, athletic trainer for Ewing High School, said the state heat participation policy is extremely important.

“It allows for activity to continue with the appropriate modifications of increased water breaks, removal of equipment and decreased intensity of activity,” Csillan said. “Although infrequent in our geographical zone, sometimes activity may be canceled.”

Selam Ambaw, who just finished her sophomore year at Hunterdon Central High School, said the changes to heat precautions have been a long time in coming.

“Personally, I have experienced the terrifying feeling of having my vision black out and my knees go weak from playing in the suffocating heat and humidity,” Ambaw said, noting that her school has athletic trainers who can assist in the heat and humidity but not all do, leaving athletes vulnerable. “As a player, you give 110 percent to the game you love,” Ambaw said. “You may be battered and bruised and feel tired to the bone when walking off the field, but you should not have to pass out from heat exhaustion or die from heat stroke to prove your dedication to the game.” 

Another bill in the package would require schools to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “return to play progression” that must be followed before a student-athlete can return to competition after a concussion. 

The last bill in the package requires emergency action plans for responding to serious sports injuries in any public school district and nonpublic school that includes any of the grades 6 through 12.

“Establishing this plan, rehearsing and reviewing annually and updating as needed will ensure rapid, controlled response, and this will likely be the difference between an effective or ineffective emergency response,” said Christina Emrich, head athletic trainer and assistant athletic director for Red Bank Regional High School.

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