For the past five years, the Florida High School Athletic Association has made sure its coaches were educated about concussions. Now it's making sure student-athletes are as well.
Beginning this season, all high school athletes in Florida must complete courses on concussions provided by the National Federation of State High School Associations before being eligible. The courses are free and available online. Once student-athletes complete the course, they and their parent or guardian must sign a form. They also will get a certificate of completion which must remain on file with the coach of each sport.
The FHSAA promises random checks throughout the school year. If coaches can't provide proof of completion, they will be suspended until all players complete the course. Student-athletes on varsity and junior varsity levels, including for non-contact events such as golf, cross country and swimming, must take the course.
"The reason behind the move was student-athlete safety," said Justin Harrison, the FHSAA's associate executive director for athletic services. "Overall, all concerned parties felt it was imperative to continue to educate the student-athletes on concussions. … This course was yet another way to provide the information."
Harrison said Florida is the first state to require all student-athletes to be versed on concussions. The FHSAA board of directors passed the policy in June. Member schools' coaches and athletic directors were made aware of the policy change soon after.
The course is available at www.nfhslearn.com, where student-athletes are directed to the proper courses.
The fall sports will be the policy's guinea pigs. Football, with its large rosters, might have the hardest time making sure all student-athletes obtain a completion certificate. Fall sports teams can begin preseason practices in less than a week.
St. Petersburg football coach Joe Fabrizio, who has a roster of over 100 players including varsity and junior varsity, said he will gather his teams this week to view the course and take the online test.
"We're okay with it," Fabrizio said. "Anytime you can give the kids more knowledge on a subject like concussions I don't have a problem with it. We're going to show them the test (this) week and make sure it's taken care of."
At Plant, coach Robert Weiner has close to 150 players including varsity and junior varsity. He said he found out about the test early and made sure all his players earned a certificate well before the start of Monday's practices.
"It might be a bit of a burden but it's also important," Weiner said. "We made sure we took our time and went through it to give the kids an opportunity to really learn it. We're trying to get away from the days of being a tough guy and faking (a concussion) and trying to be a hero. The more they know the more they can deal with it honestly and communicate with us honestly."
Hudson coach Rob Mahler said he also will make sure his players earn their certificates before practices start.
"We all have a lot on our plate and this is one more thing that adds up," Mahler said. "There are physicals and paperwork and fundraisers. But I do think that it is important that they know this so it is something we'll deal with."
Not all coaches are happy about having yet another piece of paperwork. Pinellas Park coach Kenny Crawford said he didn't find out about the new concussion rule until being told Monday.
"It's the first I'm hearing about it," Crawford said. "I don't think the kids learn a whole lot from these tests. They are so common sense. To me, it's pretty clear cut. As soon as you even think a player may have a concussion you turn it over to your medical staff. It's out of your hands. You can't risk it when it comes to concussions."
Coaches have had to take courses on concussions and sudden cardiac arrests for the past five years. Pasco County recently held a clinic for football coaches funded by Florida Hospital and the Tampa Bay Bucs and run by USA Football's Heads Up program. A designated coach from each of Pasco County's 13 public high schools went through a one-day training focusing on in-class and onfield training about concussions, cardiac arrest, heat issues and proper hydration, equipment fitting, and tackling and blocking techniques.
"It was good to get all the coaches together in one room and talk about different circumstances that have happened to them," Mahler said. "And we were out there going through the same drills that we put our players through. So I think it was very beneficial from that standpoint."
Recently, Pasco County has stepped up efforts to educate its staff and the public about the health of student-athletes. Amy Lipovetsky, Pasco County's program coordinator for athletics, said the county will have a full-time trainer at each public school for the first time. Additionally, she hopes to receive funding again next summer for another concussion training that will include middle-school coaches.
"I think it's good to educate everyone we can about this," Lipovetsky said. "The student-athletes and the parents are going to get this information a lot. I don't think you can get it enough."