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SC trails other states in ‘sudden death’ football safety policies

Most athletes who die have preexisting condition

Thorough physicals are helpful in identifying risk factors
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Thorough physicals are helpful in identifying risk factors

South Carolina trails many of its neighbors and much of the nation in protecting its high school student athletes from “sudden death” football incidents related to heat or cardiac arrest, such as the death of a student at River Bluff High School, according a leading institute that studies those issues.

A report card from the University of Connecticut’s Korey Stringer Institute shows that South Carolina meets only one of seven of the minimum best practices recommendations laid out by the institute, which partners with such organizations at the National Football League and the Nation Athletic Trainers’ Association.

1 of 7 Number of minimum best practices recommendations for student sports safety from the Korey Stringer Institute that the state of South Carolina meets

The seven guidelines, which set recommendations for heat acclimation procedures such as phasing in equipment usage and requiring specific lengths for practices and rest breaks, have been adopted by 16 states nationwide. They include neighboring Georgia and North Carolina as well as Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and Texas.

“Our report card is not terrific,” said Susan Yeargin, assistant professor of athletic training at the University of South Carolina’s Department of Exercise Science, whose research specialty is heat stroke.

While it’s not yet clear what happened to River Bluff’s Lewis Simpkins, cardiac arrest, heat stroke, spinal injuries, traumatic brain injuries and exertional sickling events – which are related to the sickle cell blood trait – are the top killers of high school student athletes, she said.

Yeargin said the state’s high school sports governing board should adopt more stringent practice guidelines, more accurate and comprehensive physicals and other recommendations made by the Stringer Institute.

“The state association needs to make those changes,” Yeargin said, referring to the South Carolina High School League, specifying no practice between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., and breaks with sufficient hydration every 10 to 20 minutes.

And she noted that temperatures may seem milder in the high 80s from the recent 100-degree temperatures.

“In South Carolina, that might not seem hot,” she said. “But it’s hot.”

Dr. William Adams, vice president of sports safety at the institute, noted that the recommendations were adopted as policies by the NCAA for college football in 2003 after two heat-related deaths in one day. Since then, there has just been one heat related in the first week of football.

25 to 30 Estimated number of lives saved since the NCAA instituted more exacting policies for equipment usage during practices

“It’s saved 25 to 30 lives just by phasing in equipment usage,” Adams said.

S.C. High School League commissioner Jerome Singleton said he was not familiar with the institute, nor the guidelines.

He noted that all coaches must verify with their principal completion of online concussion and heat acclimatization courses. And he said state rules, set by the league based on recommendations by a medical advisory team of South Carolina doctors, also call for only helmets to be worn on the first day of practice, followed over the next week by shoulder pads and hip pads.

The rules are reviewed each year, Singleton added.

“It’s part of what we do,” he said. “We are always exploring to see if there a better ways to do things. It’s a living document.”

The Stringer Institute’s recommendations are much more intricate. They can be found at the organization’s website under “High School Policies.”

The institute rated each state on policies it has put in place.

In addition to heat acclimation policies, South Carolina scored a zero on the nine recommendations for the use of “wet bulb globe temperature” equipment. The equipment is required in the United State’s military, particularly during basic training at Fort Jackson and other installations.

The equipment measures heat stress in direct sunlight – a combination of temperature, humidity, wind speed, sun angle and cloud cover.

The neighboring state of Georgia fully complies with the policy recommendations for heat acclimation; North Carolina, Alabama and Florida partially conform to the recommendations.

“South Carolina doesn’t have any of the nine,” the institute’s Adams said. “Part of that is the financial. There’s a cost to (the equipment).”

The state also scored a zero on requiring schools to have emergency action plans. But it scored average or above average on concussion policies and policies requiring the use of defibrillators.

3 Number of high school football players in South Carolina who have died during football practice since 2010

River Bluff’s Simpkins on Wednesday became the third high school football player in South Carolina to die during football practices since 2010.

TyQuan Brantley, 14, of Lamar in Darlington County, died during practice in 2011 of an exertional sickling event. Ronald Rouse, 18, of Hartsville, died in 2012 of a sudden cardiac arrhythmia.

The death of a student athlete “is always devastating,” Singleton said. “Our heart and prayers go out to the family friends, community and school officials. You are never prepared for this.”

Top 5 Killers of Student Athletes

1. Cardiac arrest

2. Heat stroke

3. Spine injuries

4. Traumatic brain injuries

5. Exertional sickling events – which are related to the sickle cell blood trait

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