The Gfeller-Waller Concussion Act - named after two football players who died after suffering concussions in 2009 - was signed into law by North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue late last week. Every member of the state's House and Senate endorsed the law, which head-injuries expert Kevin Guskiewicz calls the best in the country.
"It has such a strong educational component," Guskiewicz, a University of North Carolina professor and director of the Matthew Gfeller Sport-Related Traumatic Brain Injury Research Center, told the Raleigh News & Observer. "I suspect we will hear from other states wanting to copy it."
The North Carolina High School Athletic Association adopted a concussion policy soon after Jaquan Waller, a junior at Greenville Rose High, and Matthew Gfeller, a sophomore at Winston-Salem Reynolds High, both died in August 2009 while playing football. The state's Gfeller-Waller Act now extends protections into middle school athletics, as well as adds education and emergency planning requirements.
Similar to concussion laws in 20 other states, North Carolina's law requires student-athletes at public high schools and middle schools to be removed from participation if there is a suspicion that the athlete has suffered a concussion. The student-athlete cannot return to participation until cleared by a medical professional - a mandate that might have saved Waller's life. The running back received a concussion in practice on a Wednesday but two days later played in a game in which he was hit hard enough to induce second-impact syndrome. Unlike Waller, Gfeller's injury came from a single blow.
Additionally under the new law, public high school and middle school coaches, trainers, athletes and parents will receive information about concussions each year, and schools will be required to formulate emergency action plans. "These are things that we should have already been doing," Perdue told reporter Tim Stevens.
"Hopefully, what starts at the high school and middle school level filters down to Little League, Pop Warner and youth soccer," Guskiewicz added. "We absolutely have to eliminate the idea of someone having their bell rung or getting a little dinged. We have to raise the awareness of the severity of concussions, and this law does that."
At least one park and recreation organization has already cognitive baseline testing this fall under a new policy devised by the Franklin Lakes (N.J.) Recreation and Parks Committee and adopted by the Borough Council.