New Concussion Rules Protect Student Athletes

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AKRON, Ohio - A new law making its way through the Ohio legislature creates new regulations for coaches and for student athletes across the state regarding concussions.

House Bill 143 passed the Ohio Senate unanimously on Tuesday before making its way back to the state house. It is expected to have an easy ride through the legislative process and be signed by Governor John Kasich in time to govern youth sports this coming spring.

The law mandates that coaches educate themselves on the signs and symptoms of concussions. It also requires students who are diagnosed with a concussion to return to their sport only after they have medical clearance to do so.

Dr. Joseph Congeni, Director of the Sports Medicine Center at Akron Children's Hospital, has been a huge supporter of having the new law in place. Dr. Congeni testified before the state legislature about concussions, trying to help get the law passed.

"The frustrating part for me in a state that is so advanced in so many ways in medical care like the state of Ohio. 41 other states passed legislation to protect their young athletes before we were able to do this in Ohio, so that's why I became involved. That's why I became very passionate about it," said Congeni.

He says the law closely resembles regulations that were adopted by the Ohio High School Athletic Association in 2010.

"Only about 40 or 35 percent of athletes in the state of Ohio are under the legislation of Ohio High School Athletic Association," said Congeni; adding that the kids who their regulations do not cover are those who play intramural sports, kids who play youth sports, kids who play junior Olympic, AAU, CYO. "All of those different bodies are not governed by the Ohio High School Athletic Association, so I actually feel even stronger that we need to protect our youngest athlete."

Congeni is also a medical advisor to the athletic staff at Archbishop Hoban High School in Akron where the school has adopted a program that tests student athletes before their sports seasons begin to create a baseline from which they can be compared if they are ever suspected of suffering from a concussion.

Athletic Director Mike DeMedico is also a strong supporter of concussion legislation.

"I think its definitely worth doing. Literally we can be talking about a permanent injury. We are talking about a life long issue that a boy or girl can have, so we're talking about those kind of issues pretty clearly it's appropriate to regulate it," said DeMedico.

No one understands the effects of a concussion better than Donald Bitter of Hudson. Bitter has watched his daughter, Shelby, struggle through the effects of a concussion for the past five weeks after she was hit by a ball during softball practice.

"A big eye opener as far as it affected her ability to her equilibrium, thinking, light really bothered her. She's still having a tough time with the computer because she can't really focus on it and she slept for probably 20 hours the first three or four days," Bitter told Fox 8 on Wednesday.

"I can only imagine putting somebody out there that is not cured of their symptoms and what might happen to them," he added.

Shelby says she also supports anything that increases the awareness and education about the effects of concussions among Ohio coaches and regulations that impact the health and safety of the athletes.

"Absolutely, if I would have kept going who knows how much more I would have done damage to myself because I even stopped. And, here I am five weeks later and I still have headaches," she concluded.

"If nothing else, it has certainly caused a great deal of discussion in circles where people are perhaps not as familiar with high school and other sports injuries because we deal with it all the time. So, just the fact that the bill is being considered is a valuable thing," said DeMedico.