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Student-Athlete Concussion News Roundup: April 2011

With concussions in student-athletes only gaining more attention across the U.S., Schooled in Sports will occasionally be giving you quick-hit updates on some of the latest concussion news.

Leading off...In Pennsylvania: A former high school football player who still suffers from post-concussion symptoms sued his old school district this month, "alleging that his coach and trainer improperly sent him back into games after violent, damaging collisions," according to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The student, Zachary Alt (now 19), alleges that he sustained two serious hits to his head during games on Oct. 12, 2007, and Nov. 2, 2007, but his coaches and training staff did not examine him. Then, on Nov. 9 of that year, Alt collided helmet-to-helmet with a player on the opposing team, leaving him "clearly disoriented," according to the legal complaint. Instead of being removed from the game, Alt alleges that his coach told him to face off against the opposing team's middle linebacker and "blow him up." Alt's lawyer, Robert Peirce III, told local Pittsburgh media that Alt's teammates knew something was wrong with Alt after that hit; one teammate of Alt's allegedly told the team trainer, "Zach isn't right. He is walking around like he is drunk."

After the game on Nov. 9, Alt was taken to a hospital and diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury. Since then, Alt has continued to struggle with memory lapses, has trouble processing information, and endures nausea and sleeping problems, his mother told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Alt's lawsuit also alleges that the head injuries caused him to miss much of the spring semester of the 2007-08 school year, yet he received nearly straight A's that year. The lawsuit claims that the district changed his grades and allowed him to graduate without actually trying to provide him with an education.

In North Dakota: Lawmakers approved a bill on Tuesday that would prevent student-athletes who display symptoms of a concussion from returning to competition until they've received medical clearance. The rules only apply to school sports, not all youth sports, although a provision in the bill suggests that N.D. lawmakers should study whether to extend the bill in 2013. The bill now heads to Gov. Jack Dalrymple for a signature.

In Minnesota: There's bipartisan support in the state legislature for a similar bill to North Dakota's, where student-athletes suspected of having a concussion would be pulled from competition and wouldn't be allowed to return until obtaining medical clearance, the St. Paul Pioneer Press recently reported. Unlike North Dakota's bill, Minnesota's legislation would extend to many community and independent leagues.

The "poster child" of the Minnesota bill is Kayla Mayer, a freshman whose hockey career was cut short after she was diagnosed with a mild traumatic brain injury. According to the Pioneer Press, Kayla and her doctors believe that she suffered a concussion while playing hockey in 2009, continued playing for 10 days because she and her coaches were unaware of the symptoms, then suffered another head injury in practice after being knocked down and hitting her head against the ice. During testimony in front of the state legislature, Kayla said that ever since the injury, she has a headache "every second of every minute of every hour of every day."

In Missouri: The Missouri House passed legislation last week requiring student-athletes to be removed from competition if they display signs of a concussion or brain injury. Like the other states, Missouri student-athletes would need clearance from a medical professional before returning to practice or games.

What's different about Missouri's legislation: The medical professional may be a volunteer, and volunteers who authorize student-athletes' return to play won't be liable for "civil damages resulting from any act or omission in the rendering of such care" (other than gross negligence). Opponents to the bill cite this clause as troubling, saying there's less incentive for medical professionals to make good decisions, according to the Associated Press.

In Texas: The state House of Representatives passed a bill on April 5 that would ban school districts from using football helmets that are 16 years old or older. The districts would also be required to recondition helmets that are 10 years or older at least once every two years, under the legislation. The bill is now under consideration in the state senate.

And finally, in Illinois: The Illinois High School Association adopted new concussion guidelines for student-athletes on Tuesday. The old policy required student-athletes suspected of concussions to obtain medical clearance if they attempted to return to play on the same day they sustained the concussion, but included no language about the days after. Now, under the new guidelines, if a student-athlete who suffers a possible head injury isn't medically cleared to return to play on the same day he/she is removed from a game, the student-athlete must obtain medical clearance before returning to competition.

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