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Student-athlete safety bill moves through first committee

Measures to prevent heatstroke deaths were among the key items in a bill that unanimously passed its first committee on Wednesday.
In this file photo, Lakewood High School defensive lineman Tre'von Riggins (98) takes a moment during a spring football practice last April. [DIRK SHADD  |  Times]
In this file photo, Lakewood High School defensive lineman Tre'von Riggins (98) takes a moment during a spring football practice last April. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published Dec. 12, 2019
Updated Dec. 12, 2019

TALLAHASSEE — A bill that would require high school athletic programs to take more precautions to prevent heatstroke deaths unanimously passed its first committee Wednesday, as lawmakers vowed to prevent future tragedies.

Florida leads the nation in the number of high school athlete heatstroke deaths, with four in the past nine years.

“The bottom line is clear: exertional heat stroke can be prevented and treated with a 100 percent survival rate when the proper standards of care are in place,” said Rep. Ralph Massullo, R-Lecanto, during the meeting of the House PreK-12 Innovation committee. The bill was sponsored by the committee, and Massullo is the chairman.

Related: Proposal in the House prioritizes safety of student-athletes

As part of the bill, high school athletics programs would be required to keep tubs of ice water baths close by during practices and games, in order to quickly cool down the body temperature of kids suffering the early signs of heat stroke. A person will always survive heatstroke if he or she is cooled within 10 to 15 minutes after their symptoms appear, Massullo said.

Coaches would also be required to go through regular CPR and other training.

That move comes despite the fact that the Florida High School Athletic Association, which governs sports programs, decided last year to only "strongly recommend" the presence of ice tubs — going against the advice of their own medical committee, which said they should be required.

That decision by the association was met with strong criticism from experts and some parents of kids who have died. But the association contended recently that such a mandate would be better handed down and overseen by a state, district, or school government body.

One of these preventable deaths was that of football player Hezekiah B. Walters, 14, who died in June after collapsing during conditioning drills at Middleton High School in Tampa. His body temperature was 102 degrees when he arrived at the emergency room. There was no immersion tub or athletic trainer present at practice.

Related: Middleton player’s death highlights area’s need for more athletic trainers

In 2014, another 14-year-old freshman, William Shogran, died after overheating during football practice, also without an ice bath at the practice site. And in 2017, a 16-year-old football player in Fort Myers, Zach Martin-Polsenberg, also died of heatstroke after collapsing at practice.

His mother, Laurie Giordano, 48, attended Wednesday’s committee meeting to encourage lawmakers to pass this bill to protect student safety.

“I was by his side for 11 days while he struggled to survive,” she said through tears. “Those were the most excruciating 11 days of my life. … I believe (this bill) will absolutely save lives from the moment it is implemented.”

Massullo said the bill’s requirements would also apply to non-sports extracurricular programs, such as marching bands.

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