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Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board Calls for Stricter Youth-Concussion Rules

In response to a lawsuit filed late last year against the Illinois High School Association over its handling of youth-football concussions, the Chicago Sun-Times' editorial board wants to see stricter concussion rules enacted statewide.

In an April 15 editorial, the board says that no matter the outcome of the class-action lawsuit, which was initally filed by a former high school football quarterback in the state—the IHSA recently asked a judge to dismiss the suit outright—the state needs to fortify its rules regarding the handling of youth-sports concussions.

In particular, the board called for the following:

At a minimum, certified athletic trainers with extensive training in concussion management should be required at all practices and games, and a monitoring program that includes baseline testing should be implemented. Ideally, baseline exams are conducted before students begin their first season and set benchmarks of brain function to be used for comparison studies every few years or after head injuries to help determine when a student can be cleared to play.

The lawsuit itself does not seek financial damages from the IHSA, but it does propose implementation of preseason baseline testing, a program for concussion reporting and tracking, and the mandatory presence of medical personnel "with specific expertise in managing, identifying, and treating concussions" at high school football games across the state. The Sun-Times' editorial board largely echoed those requests, although it also acknowledged some of the potential cost-related challenges that those measures could present.

A former director of sports administration for the Chicago school district told the paper that fewer than half of the district's schools had athletic trainers available on a daily basis, adding, "I just don't know how schools would fund it." At a Dec. 5 news conference, IHSA executive director Marty Hickman issued a similar warning, saying a judgment in favor of the plaintiffs would "present challenges to high school football programs that are... so far-reaching for many schools, they will undoubtedly adversely affect high school programs, and could eliminate some programs in Illinois," according to John Keilman of the Chicago Tribune.

In a statement posted on the association's website just days after the lawsuit's filing, Hickman and Co. suggested the suit "has far-reaching implications, potential repercussions that threaten the future of all high school sports." The Sun-Times editorial board wasn't swayed by that argument, however, writing, "that cannot justify falling short on safety."

Instead, the board suggests that "a school's failure to demonstrate to parents that it is doing all it can in the interest of safety" presents a far greater threat to football than possible cost-prohibitive measures.

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