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Former H.S. Quarterback Sues State Athletic Association Over Concussions

The National Football League and National Collegiate Athletic Association aren't the only major sports organizations coming under fire for their handling of sports-related concussions.

On Saturday, a former high school quarterback from Notre Dame (Ill.) College Prep, Daniel Bukal, filed a lawsuit against the Illinois High School Association, accusing the association of a "systemic failure to properly manage concussions." The suit is being referred to as a first-of-its-kind, football-specific class-action lawsuit against a state high school athletic association, according to CBSSports.com's Dennis Dodd.

Bukal, who played from 1999-2003, allegedly sustained multiple concussions during his high school playing career, yet did not receive any information about concussions either before or after suffering his injuries. As the suit notes, the state association had yet to adopt any sort of concussion policy in the early 2000s, which led to inconsistent return-to-play decisions. The suit alleges that Bukal continues to suffer from lingering concussion effects, including lightheadness, migraines, and memory loss.

The state association's current concussion guidelines require any student-athlete suspected of having sustained a concussion to be removed from "a contest." Student-athletes removed under such suspicions cannot return to practice or a game until being cleared by a licensed physician or certified athletic trainer.

The lawsuit, however, suggests that policy falls far short of the current best practice. It calls for the remove-from-play requirements to be extended beyond competitions into practice, implementation of preseason baseline testing, a program for concussion reporting and tracking, and mandatory concussion training for trainers working with football teams and faculty members at IHSA member schools.

Bukal's attorney, Joe Siprut, told the Chicago Tribune that the lawsuit seeks to force the state association into action.

"We want to force their hand to make the IHSA be brought up to modern standards," he said. "Absent litigation, that's unlikely to happen."

Bukal's lawsuit specifically references the state's youth-concussion law, the "Protecting Our Student Athletes Act," noting that the law "made the IHSA solely responsible for promulgating the rules that would minimize the risk of concussions in Illinois' student-athletes." By failing to meet the latest consensus guidelines, the state association "continues to ignore and actively conceal the repeated warnings and patterns of injury of which the IHSA has actual knowledge, the suit alleges.

The lawsuit seeks to cover all former high school football players from 2002 onwards, although it does not seek financial damages. Siprut, who was one of the lead attorneys in the class-action lawsuit against the NCAA over its handling of concussions, told CBSSports.com that he intends on filing similar suits on a state-by-state basis.

"This is not a threat or attack on football," he told Michael Tarm of The Associated Press. "Football is in danger in Illinois and other states—especially at the high school level—because of how dangerous it is. If football does not change internally, it will die. The talent well will dry up as parents keep kids out of the sport—and that's how a sport dies."

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